Saturday, September 23, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Bassoon's front and center

Here is Janelle Gelfand's review of Friday morning's Cincinnati Symphony concert. Don't let the little known pieces deceive you. This sounds like one of those "can't be missed" concerts!
Bassoon's front and center
By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, September 23, 2006

The bassoon is one of the most colorful instruments of the orchestra, perhaps most known for its comical touches. On Friday morning, listeners heard how a bassoon can shine as a serious solo instrument, when principal bassoonist William Winstead performed Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B-Flat Major with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Winstead’s playing was a revelation of effortless technique and smiling phrases that sang. Aside from the fun of seeing a symphony musician out front, the program led by Paavo Järvi was something of a sleeper. It included Three Dances for Orchestra, a little-known work by Frenchman Maurice Duruflé, and Cesar Franck's glorious Symphony in D Minor.

A native of western Kentucky, Winstead has been principal bassoonist since 1987 and is also on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Mozart wrote his B-Flat Major Bassoon Concerto, K. 191, at age 18 – but there is nothing juvenile about its challenges. Winstead, sporting a brilliant red and gold vest, navigated its treacherous leaps, runs and flourishes with a sure hand and a smooth, sonorous timbre.

His seamless line was an asset in the slow movement, which brought out the beauty of Mozart’s soaring melodies. The finale was fleet, and the bassoonist transformed his sound for its dark, minor-moded section. The cadenzas, of Winstead’s own invention, were well-developed feats of virtuosity.

Winstead’s colleagues in the orchestra were sensitive partners in this engaging performance.

Järvi opened with Duruflé's Three Dances, an undiscovered gem of 1932 in the tradition of Debussy, Fauré and Ravel. The orchestra played with wonderful transparency in the opening Divertissement, which was awash with color. The slow Danse lente was gentle and touching, with sweeping climaxes in the brass, and the final Tambourin included a saxophone solo (James Bunte).

Järvi's view of Franck's romantic Symphony in D Minor, which concluded the morning, was one of the most vigorous you’ll ever hear, and painted in bold swaths of color. After the broad introduction (that recalls Liszt’s Les Preludes), the conductor burst upon the Allegro with surprising power. There was an aura of mystery about the chromatic motive that pervades this work, which contrasted against affirmative statements in the brass and deeply felt lyrical passages.

The orchestra turned in a polished performance, particularly the strings, whose ensemble has never sounded so lush. Principal English horn Chris Philpotts shone in the Allegretto, which also offered a chance to hear the orchestra’s new principal horn, Elizabeth Freimuth.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. Tickets: 513-381-3300.


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