Thursday, May 30, 2019

Enjoying the 'Three Rs' of DSO Music

By Christine Facciolo

Forget the three Bs. The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) capped off its 2018-19 season with works by 'the three Rs': Respighi, Rachmaninoff and…Rozsa?

You may not know his name, but chances are you’ve heard his music, especially if you’re a film buff. Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995) was a Hungarian-American composer best known for his film scores. Rozsa’s Hollywood career earned him considerable success and recognition, including 17 Oscar nominations and three wins for “Spellbound” (1945), “A Double Life” (1947) and “Ben-Hur” (1959).

Rozsa also remained faithful to his classical music roots with his compositions earning the plaudits of the likes of Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky and Janos Starker, who commissioned the work played this night.

The orchestra eased into the evening with a performance of Respighi’s highly descriptive symphonic poem the “Fountains of Rome.” Composed in 1916, the work remains a fine example of the brilliance with which Respighi uses the resources of the orchestra. (That’s not surprising since he was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, who wrote the book on orchestration, both literally and figuratively).

The DSO invested its performance which much skill and care. The first movement, The Valle Guilia Fountain at Dawn, conveyed a distinctly bucolic tone, while the buoyancy of The Triton Fountain in the Morning conjured up images of water spouts. The solemnity of The Trevi Fountain at Mid-Day soon gave way to euphoria reminiscent of a classic Hollywood film score. The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset provided a pastoral conclusion with notable contributions from the woodwinds. The expressive playing led to a distant tolling of a bell — in this instance one of the Kerrigan Bells of Remembrance — heralding the ebb of the music.

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis. Photo courtesy of artist.
Rozsa’s Cello Concerto, Op. 32 offered another palette, not to mention tangy harmonies and the rhythmic flair of the composer’s native Hungarian language. The first movement full of strong ideas and a cadenza of riveting virtuosity. By contrast, the central movement is lyrical and tinged with anguish. The final movement bristles with energy and — once again — rhythmic √©lan.

This is a stout, boldly communicative work that deserves and demands to be heard much more often. Kudos to DSO Music Director David Amado for programming it and to virtuoso cellist Nicholas Canellakis for learning it for this concert. (The work is so well-hidden that not even the majority of cellists know it exists.)

Canellakis is a highly articulate soloist who not only performs the music; he inhabits it. His impeccable technique enables him to remain confident and in control while executing the fiendishly difficult passages Rozsa throws at him (and there are many). That composure allows him to convert pyrotechnics into phrases that are rich in beauty and meaning.

The audience responded by breaking decorum with applause between movements. After three curtain calls, Canellakis obliged with a performance of the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite, No. 1 in G major.

Following intermission, DSO Board Chairman Charles Babcock honored philanthropists Gerret and Tatiana Copeland for their support of the orchestra. Mrs. Copeland told the audience that she and her husband had their first date at The Grand. She also told the heartfelt story of how Rachmaninoff — “Uncle Sergei” to her — supported her family during a financial crisis.

The DSO’s rendering of the composer’s final symphony was equally heartfelt. Amado caught all the passion of the first movement while simultaneously retaining its lyrical qualities, defined the poetic elements of the second movement and concluded the symphony with all the energy and enthusiasm a finale deserves.


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