Spanning 200 Years, a Thrilling Homage

United StatesUnited States Bach, Mahler: Vivek Jayaraman (violin), Solomon Liang (violin), Canton Symphony Orchestra / Gerhardt Zimmermann (conductor), Umstattd Hall, Canton, Ohio, 27.1.2018 (TW)

Bach – Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BMW1043
Mahler – Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

Titled German Genius, this concert from the Canton Symphony Orchestra was a thrilling homage to the Austro-German tradition. While not a comprehensive survey, the program offered an astute, two-point perspective, spanning nearly 200 years. Bach’s Baroque-era seeds took root and blossomed, later contrasting with the monumental, verdant pinnacles articulated by Mahler.

In Bach’s much beloved Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D Minor, what was old seemed new again. The virtuosity of the featured soloists — Vivek Jayaraman, CSO concertmaster for the 2016-2017 season, and current CSO principal second violinist, Solomon Liang — lent intense expressivity.

Two distinct musical presences engaged in an extended conversation, built on intricate contrapuntal themes. Jayaraman’s demeanor seemed gentle, stately, and authoritative. Liang’s stance was similar, with added youthful panache, at times as if he were about to break into a dance. Together, they brought joyous energy, fluctuating between pastoral calm and aggressive solemnity. Their blend was particularly remarkable during the poignant Largo, speaking as if with one voice. Throughout, precision and warmth were beautifully balanced, helped by a steady flow of harmonies and rhythmic coloring from the strings.

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is an arduous existential trek, a daunting trudge through life’s darkest and brightest realms. Making the journey is ultimately a rewarding endeavor, like ascending a mountain. Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann and his 87 accomplished climbers rose to this complex challenge with astonishing resolve and sonority, eventually bringing the audience to its feet.

But before that came the opening, a doleful trumpet in a lumbering funeral march. An inconsolable outcry of grief ended with a grim, muted thump from the low strings, leading to the savage turbulence of the second movement. The orchestra was a startling maelstrom of conflicting emotional states, interrupted by an all-too-brief moment of soaring nobility from the brass. A long silence ensued before the vigorous, lilting third movement. The wondrous clarity of the horns evoked a innocence, nostalgia, and hope.

The famous Adagietto, long regarded as Mahler’s encoded love letter to his wife, Alma, emerged as a contemplative portal to serenity. The strings evoked a delicate, sunlit stream, shimmering with gentle strums from the harp. And the soul-stirring optimism of the Rondo-Finale ended like a lightning strike—a bold-faced period in an epic essay.

Mahler once said, ‘When I have reached a summit, I leave it with great reluctance, unless it is to reach for another, higher one.’ With this concert, the CSO reached a formidable artistic peak.

Tom Wachunas

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