Symphony Doesn’t Disappoint with Crowd-Pleasing Concert Print
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 04 December 2001 18:00
Undoubtedly Dvorak’s Cello Concerto is the most famous piece of its type ever written. In fact, composers such as Brahms – upon hearing Dvorak’s piece – lamented that they hadn’t written a cello concerto themselves.

But however remarkable the piece is, Dvorak was hesitant to write for the instrument. Initially he was concerned about the instrument’s upper range, which he felt was nasal and thin-sounding. But his opinion changed when he heard the premiere of Victor Herbert’s Cello Concerto No. 2.

The Dvorak Cello Concerto originated during a productive stay in the United States, including some time in Spillville, a northeastern-Iowa community. Like his Symphony No. 9, the Cello Concerto is a blend of darkness – perhaps fueled on by the composer’s homesickness for Czechoslovakia – and musical eloquence.

Like Dvorak, Ralph Vaughan Williams was a nationalist, similar in his love of folk melodies and indigenous inspiration. By most accounts, English music had a rebirth because of his compositions.

One of his more famous outings, his Symphony No. 2, bore the name A London Symphony. According to Vaughan Williams, the symphony might be better called A Symphony by a Londoner. Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 2 – like Dvorak’s Cello Concerto – has its bleak, inward moments.

Coupling the two pieces and leading off with Mozart’s spritely Overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) subscription concerts last weekend were poised to be crowd favorites. With the help of acclaimed cellist Colin Carr, the QCSO did not disappoint.

Carr, a frequent QCSO soloist, has received acclaim throughout the world for his thoughtful playing. Having performed with the best orchestras in the world (Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Atlanta Symphony) and with a number of recordings to his name, Carr gave the QCSO and the audience a special treat.

Luminous and reflective throughout, Carr’s only problem was unpredictable playing from the QCSO horns. His effort, particularly in the first movement, was edgy and – while not hair-raising – appropriate for the audience and the symphony. Technically, Carr handled the most demanding portion, a terrifying scale in octaves bringing the work to its conclusion, deftly and without incident.

But the horn solo that establishes one of the two main themes for the solo cello was washed out, and early on the orchestra had a difficult time staying together. The problems were remedied once the cello was introduced and some of the burden was shifted to the soloist.

The Adagio showcased Carr’s expressive brilliance. Tranquil and at times powerful, Carr seemed at home with the movement.

Wrapping up the concert was Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 2. Purposefully unprogramatic, the work marked the composer’s first instrumental symphony, with the harp echoing the familiar Westminster Chimes theme.

The symphony travels a full circuit of feelings. An open and cheerful first movement is followed by a contemplative and gray Lento, which leads to a brisk but bleak Nocturne and a stately andante. The Epilogue then reconsiders the symphony’s opening before it fades away with hushed cellos and double basses.

Aside from the buried position of the harp and oppressive Centennial Hall acoustics on Saturday, the QCSO performed sharply. I suspect, being a second performance, that some of the freshness was lost, but the crisp, lucid playing more than compensated.

And if Colin Carr continues to choose the Quad Cities as a worthwhile stop to ply his wares, I am certain the Adler audience will lavish him with the adulation he deserves.
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