Review: Columbus Symphony, cellist shine in works inspired by romance and reverence
By Jennifer Hambrick
…Columbus Symphony Music Director Rossen Milanov led the orchestra and cello soloist Joshua Roman in a second Columbus performance of Roman’s own Awakening, a romantic drama in the guise of a cello concerto, and in Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, the composer’s most ardent expression of respect for a revered master, Richard Wagner.
Over its five movements, Roman’s Awakening, which Roman performed in Columbus in 2016, portrays the life cycle of a romantic relationship – a beginning rich with possibility, a phase where things get weird, the break-up, healing and, eventually, a return to the world.
Roman, as cello soloist, was the protagonist of this drama, which began as the strings of the orchestra out of nowhere floated like a camera shot over a vast plain at the beginning of the first movement, “Momentum.”
The solo cello plucked its way into the shot against a backdrop of ravishing music in the orchestra – wistful, lyrical, lushly orchestrated, imbued with the sound and spirit of John Williams’ finest film scores and, at the same time, fresh with unexpected shapes and turns. Roman’s flawless cello lines were seemingly effortless expressions of a soul captivated by some great beauty.
Roman’s playing was at its most lyrical in the second movement, “Possibility,” where he sang the soaring lines of his beautiful self-described love song. The brief turn into increasing dissonance was masterfully controlled and orchestrated, and masterfully performed by soloist and orchestra.
That dissonance gently foreshadowed the third movement, “It’s You, Not Me,” the abrasive violin solo at the beginning of which became the sand in the flesh of the protagonist’s oyster, sending the cello into anxious diatribes. The emotional tension in the imagined relationship registered also in the heartbeat of pounding drums, against which the solo cello seems to have no way to hold its own dynamically as the relationship unravels.
At the beginning of the fourth movement, “Clinging,” the cello is truly solo, mournfully alone and ruminating. Roman’s introspective tone was as intimate as an inner monologue. Gradually, the orchestra joined the cello, first as a backdrop of a few instruments, some marking each moment like chalk marks on the wall of a prison cell, some waiting on a single sustained pitch like confidantes ready to listen.
A gradual crescendo in the orchestra begins the finale, “Awakening, Incorporated.” These are the sounds of the world – people’s voices, the ever-present beat of time, the clang of the technology and chatter that ebbs and flows among all people. These sounds return to the warm, cinematic sound world of the first movement before the cello-protagonist, having grieved its loss, returns to take part in the world.
Roman’s bluesey entrance here was full of saucy flair. Moments of rock-inspired drumming conveyed the edge of wisdom newly found. Whistles, bravos and a standing ovation greeted Roman at the concerto’s emphatic end.