Masterworks Lead with Holst
THE FIRST MASTERWORKS CONCERT by the Charleston Symphony for this 2012-2013 season featured a sure fire blockbuster in Gustav Holst’s seven-movement suite for orchestra The Planets. The orchestra, which we weren’t sure was going to be around just a year or so ago, has emerged as a top-flight ensemble featuring guest conductors.
Conductor Michael Rossi, a student of Kurt Masur, Hugh Wolfe, Robert Spano, and David Zinman, obviously learned a thing or two. The performance Friday night at the Sottile Theatre to a capacity audience was spectacular, with the orchestra responding to Rossi’s carefully balanced and inspired conducting. Rossi was able to keep the hectic pace of the score alive, rhythmically tight, and well coordinated, not to mention eliciting remarkably loud passages that were breathtaking.
The Planets, a mix of astronomical and astrological influences on man, but thoroughly English in sound, was composed by Holst during the World War I period. It did not receive its first public performance until 1923. Since that time, it has become a popular concert work and over 70 recordings have been made since the first conducted by Holst in 1925.
The Women of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus directed by Dr. Robert Taylor provided the ethereal ending to Neptune and the whole work. The audience gave a standing ovation for the concert, but I think it was mostly for The Planets.
The concert opened with the overture to Guiseppe Verdi’s opera La Forza del Destino, another crowd pleaser. Rossi conducted with a well judged and vigorously spirited enthusiasm. Rossi followed the Verdi with Johannes Brahms’ Schicksalied, Op. 54, a setting for chorus and orchestra of a poem by early German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Hölderlin’s poetry has been analyzed and interpreted in modern times by Martin Hiedegger and Theodor Adorno, among others. Hiedegger found existential thinking in Hölderlin’s poetry, making him an existentialist before there was such a thing as existentialism.
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, under Dr. Taylor, was effective, but from where I sat in the back of the theatre, the orchestra at times overwhelmed them and it was almost impossible to understand what they were singing which was not the fault of Dr. Taylor who likes well enunciated and clearly sung texts. The problem lay in part with the acoustics of the Sottile Theatre, originally a movie house. The overhead concave sky dome plays tricks with the origins of sounds.
Overall the orchestra was excellent. The use of an apron stage over the orchestra pit brought the musicians closer in contact with the audience. There was a wooden reflecting panel at the rear of the stage which helped in projecting the sound.