By Peter JacobiH-T Reviewer
November 19, 2010
Cliff Colnot has been back in town, temporarily away from his usual responsibilities with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles in the Windy City area. He came this time to work with the IU Concert Orchestra, to prepare it for Wednesday night’s program of Stravinsky and Schumann in the Musical Arts Center.
From what one heard, his coaching and cajoling paid off once again; Maestro Colnot continues to impress. The youthful musicians reciprocated with proficiently realized readings of the Pulcinella Suite of Stravinsky and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish.” The technical essentials were all in place, to which Colnot and company added the essences embedded in the scores.
Stravinsky’s suite, consisting of relatively brief sections, includes much of the music the composer wrote for the ballet “Pulcinella,” which had a successful Paris premiere in 1920. The ballet tells the story of the time-honored theatrical clown-hero, a commedia dell’ arte figure, who wins the favor of all the young girls, arouses the jealousy of their boyfriends, escapes their wrath through his wit and, in the end, brings girls and guys together.
The music is melodic, vivid, playful and touched with humor. Stravinsky in later years called the neo-classical score “my discovery of the past.” In Wednesday’s finely-etched performance, one could feel the appropriate, springy spirit of dance and story.
Whether or not Colnot chose the “Rhenish” Symphony because this is Schumann’s birth bicentennial, hearing it amounted to uplift of mood for this listener. The work is of such ebullience, being the composer’s hymn of praise to the River Rhine and its surroundings. He wrote it during a happy personal time, when he moved with optimism to a new post in Dusseldorf. The optimism would wear off rather quickly, but not while he wrote the symphony, actually his last in the genre, even though it is labeled the third of four.
Save for the fourth of its five movements, the symphony is festive, sunny, of sweeping, lyric and ultra-Romantic nature. That fourth movement expresses joy, too, but in more stately, even solemn fashion, representing as it does Schumann’s view of and reaction to the great cathedral in Cologne.
Colnot found and made sure the musicians brought forth the symphony’s animated nature and nobility, its euphoric aura, its sometimes called-for elegance, its exuberance. The numerous solo and section highlights — demanded of horns, trombones, a pair of clarinets, the first cellist, the first violinist and others — were strikingly accomplished. And from start to finish, the performance as a whole exuded a composer’s love for the Rhineland along with an atmosphere that must have left many of its listeners smiling; it surely left me so.