Review: DSSO strikes all the right chords for sell-out crowd
The first thing that has to be said is: "Wow." I haven't missed many of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's concerts in the last three years, and I have not heard a better one than Saturday night's concert, "Gluttony & Abstinence." And i...
The first thing that has to be said is: "Wow."
I haven't missed many of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's concerts in the last three years, and I have not heard a better one than Saturday night's concert, "Gluttony & Abstinence."
And it couldn't have come at a better time. The DSSO sold out the hall for the first time in institutional memory.
In fairness, it didn't hurt that three Northland choral groups -- the Duluth Superior Symphony Chorus, the University Singers from UMD and the Lake Superior Youth Chorus, were performing in the finale, Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." No doubt most of them brought a family member or two. And it didn't hurt that both pieces on the docket are well-loved.
But the DSSO has put forth big choruses before and not sold out.
At any rate, a grand slam for the organization couldn't have come at a better time.
The concert opened with Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," representing the "abstinence" side of the sin-virtue pairing, part of the orchestra's season-long theme for its classical concerts. This is my favorite piece by one of my favorite composers, and the DSSO nailed it. I have a "Great Performances" disc of Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic playing the same piece, and the concert stacked up pretty darn well.
The piece has many quiet moments and provided a good showcase for the much-improved violins, who have almost lost the wispiness on the pianissimos they once struggled with.
Of course, with Copland you also have a brass showcase, and the DSSO shined there, too.
The whole piece was energetic, dynamic and immaculately phrased.
Of course, with "Appalachian Spring," the big moment comes in the last movement, where the brass finally break forth on the variations on "Simple Gifts," the Shaker melody -- a favorite of television commercials. Even on a fall evening inside, they were like sunshine breaking through the clouds.
Although the Orff piece was written in roughly the same time period, it's a striking contrast, and it, too, was impressive in its way Saturday night.
The chorus was huge, and in the famous opening movement -- also a TV favorite -- the group put up a wall of sound that could push you against your seat. Impressive.
But as much as I loved the chorus, the soloists were even better. Elizabeth Norman has one of the best soprano voices I've ever heard -- pure and clean, with very little vibrato, as befits her coloratura work. Robert Orth is a baritone after my own heart -- in love with his high range. He was obviously enjoying the roles the piece put him in.
And then there's that Bill Bastian guy who's no slouch -- and was particularly funny playing a drunk up in falsetto land.
I was a little surprised the audience neglected a standing ovation for the Copland, but they made up for it on the Orff, barely waiting until the last note had dissipated. Judging by the comments I overheard on the way out, the DSSO may have won over some of its new patrons. Good for them.
Incidentally, the season theme is working. A couple of guys behind me were talking about the gluttony/abstinence thing, leaning toward the former. I couldn't help reflecting on it myself, and I'll spare you except to say this: The Copland climaxes in that moment of transcendent joy; the Orff is a lament for cruel fate and has moments that sound positively demonic. I think that's about right.