Cool Cleveland

April 26, 2007
By Kelly Ferjutz, Cool Cleveland contributor

At...In many ways the Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra by Richard Sortomme, which received its world premiere could have been subtitled ‘The Pied Piper of Wherever’ as in wherever you lead, I’ll follow. The viola, as sumptuously played by principal Robert Vernon led the orchestra, and the orchestra occasionally returned the favor, but regardless, this was gorgeous music gorgeously played. It was meant to be primarily lyrical, which it was indeed, with just a bit of technical fireworks thrown in for good measure. It was, overall, an enjoyably listenable one-movement show-piece.

Mr. Sortomme and Mr. Vernon are long-time friends, and collaborated closely on the structure and style of this piece. There were short melodic phrases over harmonies from the orchestra including a lovely melody by the horn. This changed into not necessarily traditional, close-harmonic chords modulating in the brass which were very close to jazz, followed by the somewhat strident solo viola playing double stops punctuated by a rather loud bass drum. Interesting combinations of instruments and rhythmic patterns are to be heard throughout, such as harp and marimba or the orchestral violins being silent, while the solo viola played lots of notes over the brass building up to a loud chord.

Then the viola turned melodic again, in a demonstration of very legato playing, while Jonathan Sherwin’s contra-bassoon engaged in a duet with the violin of concertmaster William Preucil, and the trombones were sliding up and down in the background. There were rich and lush sonorities in the orchestral strings with viola and horn playing a duet over all. Gorgeous!

The xylophone was joined by the violins in a bit of jaunty hoe-down type of music. The final viola cadenza was a melody played over ever-changing chords in the orchestra that slowly faded away, leaving the solo viola by itself for a few moments, before fading away, accompanied by the (unscored) rain on the roof of Severance Hall. It was an added mystical touch that could hardly have been programmed in advance…