The Plain Dealer

Compositions take music lovers to different places
April 28, 2007
By: Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer Music Critic

Music has the power to drive you into a frenzy or lead you to the land of tranquility.

As proof, allow me to place in evidence this week's Cleveland Orchestra program at Severance Hall.

The zeal is provided by Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4…and the serenity by Richard Sortomme's Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra in its world premiere…

Sortomme composed his commissioned piece for longtime friend Robert Vernon, the orchestra's principal viola. Unlike many of the European-rooted contemporary works we hear at Severance Hall, Sortomme's creation has the sweet fragrance of nostalgia, with poetic lines that occasionally give way to acrobatic flights.

An affectionate folk like quality pervades the melodic material, almost as if Britain's Vaughan Williams had been transplanted to 21st-century America. Sortomme paints sonic images in tonal language that caresses the mellow and often melancholic personality of the viola. Yet his writing has just enough dashes of spice to keep it from being merely a lilting idyll.

Although the viola has opportunities to go virtuosic in a series of fantastical flourishes and cadenzas, what sets the piece apart is its unflappable and appealing composure. Vernon played the score, which is dedicated to him, with a wonderful blend of quiet rapture and ardent attack. Somehow, the score's final moments became even more magical than notated: A decisive rain hitting the Severance roof added a haunting effect. The composer came onstage to give his pal an enormous hug.

Next to Sortomme's delicate beauty,

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: drosenberg@plaind.com, 216-999-4269