The world premiere of a piece by an important composer is always an occasion. This weekend at Powell Symphony Hall, that new work was Christopher Rouse’s Bassoon Concerto.
Commissioned by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the concerto featured gifted soloist Andrew Cuneo, principal bassoon of the SLSO. Bassoons don’t get many opportunities to shine; it’s a quiet instrument. Between Rouse’s skill in composition and Cuneo’s in playing, though, the concerto was a resounding success on Friday morning.
Because of the bassoon’s limited dynamic range, Rouse wrote for a small orchestra, albeit a small orchestra that included two other bassoons. The composer rang all the changes in mood and style, but kept things accessible. The concerto started out playfully, moved into mystery, explored some jagged rhythms; there were dialogues with those other bassoons, with the winds, the harp and other instruments, for an engaging whole.
Cuneo acquitted himself outstandingly throughout all those moods, playing with a lovely tone and sure fingering throughout. Conductor Cristian Macelaru led with panache and intensity. It’s to be hoped that the SLSO will bring the concerto back within a few seasons for another hearing.
The concert opened with Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance.” Based on the unpleasant Greek myth of Medea and Jason, the “Meditation” has a quiet start, but it grows in uneasiness, finally exploding into ferocity. Macelaru and the orchestra made the most of it.
The second half was taken by Aaron Copland’s 1946 Symphony No. 3. To anyone familiar with Copland’s folk-flavored oeuvre, this is a piece that will sound familiar from the start, with open chords, themes and harmonies reminiscent of the ballets, the “Old American Songs” and, of course, the “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the last of which figures prominently in the final movement.
Like the Barber, the Copland calls for a large orchestra with a supplemented brass section. They were in terrific voice and played flawlessly, especially in the exciting conclusion. Many of the principal players had notable solo moments, particularly oboe Jelena Dirks and English horn Cally Banham; the flute section had a lovely passage together. The percussion section was in fine form.
Macelaru is dynamic and intense on the podium; a frequent visitor to Powell Hall, he’s always a welcome one. He proved an ideal interpreter for this vibrant program of all-American music.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Copland’s Third
When 8 p.m. Saturday • Where Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand Boulevard • How much $25-$110 • More info 314-534-1700; slso.org