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by Tom Wachunas

CSO-ZImmermannDescribing this season’s final concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Umstattd Performing Arts Hall on April 26 brings to mind a bevy of feel-good bromides. Still, none would be more apropos than “out of this world.”

Everything that makes this orchestra truly noteworthy was in full force. With just two works on the program – Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter”, and Holst’s The Planets, the orchestra under Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann thrilled the capacity audience with its broad palette of commanding sonority, astonishing technical virtuosity and gripping expressionism.

Zimmermann’s reading of Mozart’s greatest symphonic accomplishment was brilliantly balanced in its moderate pacing, precision of textures, and palpable affection for Mozart’s intricate, complex mixing of thematic motifs. That intricacy is clearly apparent in the first movement’s melding of majestic pomp with gentle graciousness. Even more so, the second movement is a sumptuous triad of contemplative, fiery and calming moods. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Tom Wachunas

FLECK-BelaThere was more than one surprise in the March 22 program by the Canton Symphony Orchestra at Umstattd Hall, billed as “A Béla, A Bartók, And A Surprise.” For starters, I’m fairly sure this was the first time the audience could see CSO musicians towering larger than life, captured live on camera and projected on to a screen behind the orchestra.

It’s certainly an effective tool for highlighting various sections or soloists at work, but only if the camera shots are properly coordinated with the music. On this occasion there were some shortcomings in that regard, not unlike seeing footage of football players sitting on the sidelines while a big scoring play transpires on the field. That said, I’m sure that this new element will be successfully adjusted to become a great enhancement of the concert experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

CSCIn celebration of its 30th Anniversary, the Canton Symphony Chorus joined the Canton Symphony Orchestra on February 16 for the Masterworks Series concert at Umstattd Hall. Augmented by the Malone University Chorus, the combined vocal ensemble of 125 members, conducted by Chorus Director Britt Cooper, gave a truly beautiful account of the first work on the program, Mozart’s brief motet, Ave verum corpus (Hail True Body). Hushed and ethereal, the performance was nonetheless an inspiring tone-setter for the more dramatically expansive Brahms German Requiem that followed, conducted by Gerhardt Zimmermann.

Unlike the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead, this requiem eschewed the blunt Biblical language of a wrathful God dispensing the fire and brimstone of the Last Judgment. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

WATTS-AndreAmerican composer Arthur Foote (1853-1937) once wrote that “…the object of the artist should be to tell us in music…the truths of life and the beauty and sublimity of life.” It is an operative philosophy that inspired his best works. The most famous of those is his Suite for Strings in E Major, which was the first selection on the January 25 Canton Symphony Orchestra Masterworks program that spotlighted American composers. I think it fair to say that the other composers on this program shared Foote’s musical outlook.

His Suite for Strings is a brilliant platform for showcasing the depth and sensitivity of this orchestra’s string section. From the lush and pastoral sweep of the first movement, the delightful precision of the Tchaikovsky-esque Pizzicato second movement, and throughout the churning power of the finale, the orchestra was altogether breathtaking. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

Schimpf

Alexander Schimpf: finals of the 2011 Cleveland International Piano Competition with The Cleveland Orchestra (Photo: Roger Mastroianni)

This work could hardly be called a warm, festive mood-setter. In fact, it’s downright listener-unfriendly unless you’ve acquired some appreciation of Ives’ aesthetic explorations in polytonality, polyrhythms and other departures from traditional symphonic form. Toward that end, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann prefaced his unusually lengthy introduction of the work by saying that he considered Charles Ives to be “…the most authentic American composers there is.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

GAY-Erin-CooperIf not performed in a properly balanced fashion, Baroque-era music is often a more cerebral encounter than an emotionally alluring one to the listener. Musicians can get so caught up in delivering the music’s characteristically frothy ornamentation (which does allow for some exciting virtuosity on the part of soloists) that their technical prowess overshadows its intended “spiritual” affect, which can range from dramatic urgency and melancholy to reverential majesty and unfettered joy.

Fortunately, the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) avoided that shortcoming during its all-Baroque concert on November 3 in Umstattd Performing Arts Hall. Not surprisingly, in performing the nine works on the program (four by Handel, and one each by J.S. Bach, Jeremiah Clarke, Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Pachelbel and Antonio Vivaldi), the orchestra was technically faultless. Most important and inspiring, though, was the pure expressivity of textures and moods conveyed by the musicians. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

Yekel-AmyThe Canton Symphony Orchestra enlisted Thomson Smillie, the acclaimed opera producer, stage director and lecturer, as guest speaker for its April 20 season finale concert at Umstattdt Hall. His observations before and during the first half of the program, consisting of three selections from Wagner operas, were delightfully astute and witty, and it’s difficult to imagine a more excited champion of Wagner’s impactful genius.

In retrospect, Smillie’s directive to the audience on how to best embrace the first work of the evening, Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, and the third selection, Brünnhilde’s Immolation scene from Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), seems somewhat curious if not counterintuitive. Smillie posited that the dramatic thrust of these works cannot be wholly appreciated via the inadequate (and perhaps even silly) words in the libretto, but rather through the cascading orchestral surges he compared to musical orgasms. While we hear the singer with our ears and see her with our eyes, he explained further, we must listen to the orchestra with our hearts to experience what words on their own could never impart. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

ZIMMERMN-GerhardtIf there is a single idea that remains maddeningly entangled with my overall sense of the March 23 program by the Canton Symphony Orchestra, it is that love is a many splintered thing. For it was largely a theme of love, in wildly diverse applications, that united the three works on the program: Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Canti guerrieri ed amorosi (Songs of War and Love) by American composer Claude Baker, and Symphony No. 5 by Dmitri Shostakovich. The evening was a stormy orchestral journey, some of it difficult to navigate, but ultimately richly rewarding.

Not surprisingly, the performance of the Beethoven overture was utterly entrancing. With inspiring clarity, the orchestra wholly embraced the work’s intense pathos and urgent drama of undeserved suffering and the resolute power of heroic love.

The second selection of the evening was the much touted world premiere of Claude Baker’s Canti guerrieri ed amorosi, which was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, and written specifically to commemorate the CSO’s 75th Anniversary. Read the rest of this entry »

 by Tom Wachunas

ItZIMMERMN-Gerhardt is always something of a letdown when Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann doesn’t preface a program selection at a Canton Symphony Orchestra concert with his special brand of wit, sardonic or otherwise. Ever the engaging raconteur, he didn’t disappoint on the occasion of the December 2 performance at Umstattd Hall.

One of the unique elements in this concert, billed as Audience Choice, was that the three program selections were chosen from a list voted upon by loyal CSO subscribers. The list consisted of three overtures, three piano concertos, and three symphonies which Zimmermann offered for consideration at the end of last season. The winning selection for the first work on the program was Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie). Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Wachunas

Looking backZIMMERMN-Gerhardt on the several years I’ve been reviewing performances by the Canton Symphony Orchestra, I don’t recall a concert (other than an opera) with just a single work on the program. The November 4 concert featured Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in c minor (Resurrection), a stand-alone work if ever there was one. In his introductory comments, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann reverently reminded a very packed Umstattd Hall that the evening was dedicated to the memory of Rachel Renkert (1938-2007) — a beloved, seminal visionary in forming the CSO into the vibrant organization it is today. The Mahler was her favorite symphonic work.

Zimmermann also asked that we hear the work as a total, discreet unit and to withhold our applause after the long first movement, which was followed by an intermission. Obliging Zimmermann’s request was difficult. For the sheer soul-stirring drama of the orchestra’s electrifying performance was one of those classically cathartic encounters that could cause one to approach total strangers, shake them unapologetically by the shoulders, and gush, “Do you believe what we just heard!?” And that was only the beginning. Read the rest of this entry »

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