The Beacon Journal

April 27, 2007
By Elaine Guregian, Beacon Journal arts and culture critic

In between came the world premiere of the Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra by Richard Sortomme, 58, an American composer. The Rhapsody makes melody wage a battle for dominance, but it does win. When the luxuriant orchestral fabric lapped around the edges of the viola melody, at the beginning and end of the work, it created a mood of utter repose.

The one-movement Rhapsody ends as peacefully as it begins, but in between, it moves from section to section of varying character, one magical and dreamlike, another slightly jazzy, interspersed with cadenzas for viola with the orchestra. Transitions between these various sections were occasionally lumpy in Thursday's performance. Whether that was because of the score or the players' unfamiliarity with the piece, it's hard to say.

Sortomme uses tonal language with a particular appreciation for the radiance an orchestra can achieve. His is a fresh voice, different in style from what the Cleveland Orchestra's leaders often choose for commissions, and most listeners will find it approachable.

Robert Vernon, now in his 31st season as principal violist of the Cleveland Orchestra, was the distinguished soloist for this Cleveland Orchestra commission. His richly variegated tone, his rock-solid intonation and technique, and most of all, his way of reaching into the music to savor it, marked this solo performance. Vernon always plays with conviction, and he gave a fervent performance of this intriguing new work.

Elaine Guregian can be reached at 330-996-3574 or