With opera composer Verdi’s three fateful knocks, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra opened the 2012-2013 season Friday with a theme of destiny and the heavens. Though it may seem a bold move to invite fate into a new hall with a guest conductor, the ensemble’s boisterous attitude and purposeful joy were evident in its presentation.
In the Sotille Theatre, the CSO played the first of three performances of Verdi’s overture to La forza del destino (The Power of Fate), Brahms’ Schicksalslied, and the ever-popular The Planets suite by Gustav Holst.
Conductor Michael Rossi’s often understated but adept style was especially strong in the overture, providing a knowledgeable interpretation of the brimming opener.
Immediately, the strings proved their limber athleticism and the brass presented a warm chorale. Particularly lovely was the clarinet melody accompanied by a harp duet in the middle of the overture, a taste of an aria on love.
Though the overture does not foreshadow the tragedy we would have witnessed had the opera followed, a Brahms choral work provided the somber dose Verdi’s narrative requires.
Like his Requiem, Brahms’s Schicksalslied (“Song of Destiny”) addresses sobering mortality with heavy, luxurious melodies containing nuanced key changes that add depth. Brahms set Friedrich Höderlin’s famous poem, “Hyperion’s Song of Fate,” which illustrates the gods’ exemption from fate’s hand juxtaposed with humans’ inability to escape its cruelty.
The composer was unwilling to conclude his work with Hyperion’s devastating message, so he reasserted the celestial bliss again at the end in instrumental form only, thereby keeping the literary form intact. The audience could approach the intermission with a sense of peace, despite the last sung words being, “Like water from boulder to boulder flung downward/ Year by year to the dark Unknown below.”
Articulating the text was the CSO Chorus, one of the many choral ensembles led by Robert Taylor. A group of local volunteers, the chorus presented a well-prepared and beautifully blended work. They were particularly responsive to the mood change in the final stanza, showing the ferocity Brahms found so unsettling.
Perhaps the most well-known piece on the program, Holst’s The Planets, constructs an aural playground for anyone whose curiosity ever propelled them outside the Earth’s atmosphere. With new realistic images provided by the Mars exploration rover to accompany the sound of the bringer of war, the menacing, rhythmic cadence built to a tense climax.
Throughout the suite, the violins continued to exhibit their meticulous precision, though several movements featuring the woodwinds felt a bit stale. For instance, in Venus, the final chord in the opening phrase should be a harmonic surprise, but if it is played complacently, the magic is dampened.