A Stunner Climaxes with Explosive Ginastera

United StatesUnited States Brahms, Haydn, Ginastera: Julia Bruskin (cello), Canton Symphony Orchestra / Gerhardt Zimmermann (conductor), Umstattd Hall, Canton, Ohio, 25.3.2018. (TW)

Brahms – Serenade No.2 in A Major
Haydn – Concerto No.1 in C Major
Ginastera – Four Dances from Estancia

If familiar classical music breeds ticket sales, perhaps this program was perceived (undeservedly) as too lightweight, or the selections too obscure. Or perhaps listeners chose to give up orchestral music for Lent. I can only guess at why there were so many empty seats for the 25 March concert from the Canton Symphony Orchestra. In any case, rather than berate those otherwise faithful concertgoers missing in action, let’s say that they missed a real stunner.

The three works were written fairly early in their respective composers’ careers. True, these pieces are not known to be frequently performed live. But they should be, even if they’re not iconic, especially after this gratifying CSO performance.

Brahms was 26 when he composed his Serenade No.2 in 1859—17 years before the first of his powerful four symphonies. Still, in all of its youthful energy, this five-movement work feels symphonic. More surprisingly, Brahms scored it without violins. The piece remained one of his favorites. As he wrote of it later, ‘I was in a particularly blissful mood. I have seldom written music with such delight.’

Despite the restricted tonal palette, it is delightful. Without high, sparkling notes from violins to voice the melodies, the violas are necessarily front and center. Under the gently gliding baton of Gerhardt Zimmermann, their deeper tonalities enunciated a lyrical depth that was shimmering at times, somber at others, yet never morose. Meanwhile, the exhilarating winds were vibrant co-stars with crisp melodies, delicate textures, and jocular cross-rhythms with generous support from the radiant horns.

Haydn composed his first cello concerto in 1765. It’s superbly confident—as solidly designed as any of his early symphonies—and soars into all manner of virtuosic possibilities for the soloist. Julia Bruskin, co-founder of the critically acclaimed Claremont Trio and cellist with the Metropolitan Opera, joined the CSO in one of the most commanding partnerships I’ve ever witnessed.

From the start, soloist and ensemble were a single, seamlessly blended entity. Bruskin’s technical virtuosity, combined with the warmth of her instrumental tone, were mesmerizing and never succumbed to meaningless flamboyance. Her soulfulness emanated transcendence: every note was succinct and savored, every breathtaking crescendo and arpeggio rose and fell in waves—an appointment with magic.

The evening concluded with Ginastera’s wonderfully raucous Four Dances from Estancia, extracted from his 1942 ballet. The dances exemplify what the composer called his ‘objective nationalism’, the earliest phase in his career when he often quoted indigenous Argentine music. The original one-act ballet was a depiction of a day in the busy life of an estancia, a sprawling ranch in the country’s grassy plains.

Replete with paraphrased Argentinian folk tunes, the suite is a veritable tapestry of quick meter shifts, intricate triple rhythms, and wild tempo changes. The score calls for a vast array of instruments and percussion, transforming the orchestra into an enchanting, sensual embodiment of wind-blown fields and the creatures who inhabit them, and the rough feel of everyday work. There’s even a slick city man engaging the gruff gauchos (i.e., cowboys) in an intense dance contest to win the heart of a lovely ranch girl.

Rarely has the CSO been more infectiously loud, proud, and unbridled than in the last movement, ‘Danza final—Malambo’. Led by frenzied trumpets and driven by ear-splitting percussion, cacophony and exuberance exploded at a furious pace, through relentless repetitions of an unforgettable melody.

Tom Wachunas

Leave a Comment