At one time, Rachmaninoff's music was a scarcity on symphony programs, panned by critics as unabashedly romantic, with tunes that seemed right out of Hollywood. But no more; now there's a Rachmaninoff revival of sorts in concert halls, and on Thursday, it arrived at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Conductor Paavo Järvi presented an all-Rach concert - including two encores - that showcased the debut of 23-year-old Northern Kentucky University graduate Anna Polusmiak in "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." But, if her rapid-fire technique was impressive, it was Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 after intermission that offered the evening's most inspired music making.
Clocking in at nearly an hour, Rachmaninoff's Second is his longest but best-loved symphony. Despite the romantic themes that tumble out, one after another, including the third movement's "love theme," a dull performance can be tedious.
Yet this one was enthralling, with a balance of expressive detail and voluptuous string sonority that made it truly extraordinary. The strings, which lately have played with more refinement than ever, phrased their long, sweeping themes with wonderful feeling. Elegant contributions from the winds included a haunting solo by English hornist Chris Philpotts and a stunning third movement solo by clarinetist Richard Hawley.
Järvi made it a virtuoso showpiece for the orchestra, galvanizing his players in frenzied passages and pulling back to savor the warmer, arch-romantic moments. The third movement, with its great, ardent themes, resulted in spontaneous applause, before the fervent display of the finale.
It doesn't get much better than this. The orchestra will record it this week for Telarc.
For the centerpiece, Polusmiak, a native of Kharkiv, Ukraine, displayed technical power in Rachmaninoff's brilliant "Rhapsody," a set of phenomenally difficult variations based on the music of Paganini. Treacherous passages glittered and sparked, though the pianist had a tendency to rush through some of the work's more sensuous moments.
Yet after a memory lapse, she visibly relaxed; the famous "18th Variation" was lush and beautifully phrased, and her staccato articulation of the "19th Variation" that followed was truly impressive. Järvi's orchestra supported her well.
Polusmiak's encore, Rachmaninoff's "Daisies," was evocative and played with nuance and affection.
The evening opened with a somewhat uninteresting reading of two gypsy dances from a long-forgotten Rachmaninoff opera, "Aleko."
The other encore was "Scherzo," largely a showpiece for principal flutist Randolph Bowman.
The concert repeats at 11 a.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday. (513) 381-3300.
Friday, April 28, 2006
CONCERT REVIEW: CSO showcases NKU grad
Janelle Gelfand of the Cincinnati Enquirer gives us this review of Thursday night's concert: