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Currie, Ryan Rock with the CSO

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Dec 4, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

To say that the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra ended 2006 with a bang would not be just a metaphor.
   They did it literally Saturday night at Music Hall with percussionist Colin Currie and American composer Christopher Rouse's "Der Gerettete Alberich" ("Alberich Saved").
   The program marked the CSO premiere of Rouse's piece. It also marked the CSO debuts of Currie and guest conductor Kwame Ryan, incoming music director of the Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine.
   Rouse's 1997 percussion concerto, named for the villainous dwarf in Wagner's four-opera "Ring" cycle, was played out on a raft of instruments that rose from the pit like a vision from Nibelheim (underground home of the dwarfs).
   As Ryan shaped the final bars of "The Ring," Currie walked on and introduced Alberich with a few rasps of guiro, a notched gourd or piece of wood with a stick drawn across it, meant to simulate the dwarf's breathing (Alberich survives "The Ring's" incendiary conclusion). From there, he took his listeners on a fantastic journey that ended with an implosion of rock drumming.
   Scottish born Currie, 30, is an elegant performer who focuses attention on the music and not himself. Moving among three stations of instruments - a rock drum set on the right, wood instruments and drums in the center, marimba and steel drum on the left - he walked softly from one to the other, exchanging glances with Ryan for a totally synchronous collaboration.
   Rouse's concerto is a remarkable work, especially for anyone familiar with "The Ring." Motifs from the "Ring" operas permeate the music. In the first movement, we hear the gruff, shuffling "Alberich" motif, the falling semi-tone denoting "Suffering," the motif of the Ring itself and its variant, "Valhalla," all expressing Alberich's anger and bewilderment.
   The second movement, a kind of lament over Alberich's sufferings, was extremely moving. Oboe and clarinet sounded the "Denial of Love" motif, and the trombones announced the "Curse on the Ring" to beautiful meditations by Currie on marimba and steel drum.
   The full-tilt finale followed rustlings of "Dawn" in the brass and a big crescendo echoing Alberich's "Assertion of Mastery" motif. Currie broke into wild drumming here. Ryan added his own swagger and the "Ring" motif got transformed rock-style. The CSO's percussionists joined in on xylophone, drums, thunder sheet and timpani, Alberich's "Dragon" motif rumbled up in the brass and the work built to a maelstrom of wicked exuberance. Currie's exit was a final swipe of guiro over low E-flat in the CSO, the very first note heard in "The Ring."
   The program had a traditional cast, too. Ryan, a native of Canada raised in Trinidad, opened with Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll," given a softly expressive interpretation with brisk tempos and well-defined textures.
   It was perhaps inevitable that Schumann's Symphony No. 2 would pale by comparison with the Rouse. There was some ticklish ensemble in the Scherzo, especially during nuances of tempo, and the Adagio, though clean and marked by pure, high intonation in the strings, did not soar enough. By the end, the hall seemed to swallow up the music, though principal timpanist Patrick Schleker put some real vigor in the final bars.
   (first published in The Cincinnati Post Dec. 4, 2006)