Saturday, November 10, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO cellist delivers masterful performance

November 10, 2007
Cincinnati Enquirer

By Janelle Gelfand
Eric Kim’s performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 was, quite simply, a tour-de-force.
The cello concerto was the centerpiece of an enthralling
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra program led by Paavo Järvi on Friday night, which opened with Haydn and ended with Stravinsky.
It was a well-matched program, and hearing Stravinsky’s remarkable “Symphony in Three Movements,” following last week’s “Symphony of Psalms,” made me wonder why we don’t hear this music more often. With the orchestra’s playing in peak form, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto in E-flat Major is unique for its powerful writing, despite its often chamber music-like textures. Järvi dedicated the performance to Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich, who died in April and for whom it was written.Kim has been principal cellist of the orchestra since 1989. From the first note, his performance was assertive and confident, and he projected a big, mellow tone with a relaxed technique. He plunged ahead with a kind of relentless energy, and that made it all the more arresting.Shostakovich’s slow movement is introspective and moving. Here, the soloist’s view was haunting and coolly detached, and Kim’s high harmonics were stunning against the dazzling horn of principal player Elizabeth Freimuth. The finale, largely a solo cadenza, was gripping for its almost vocal color. Järvi and the orchestra were superb partners.What a treat it was to hear Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 in B-flat Major, not heard at the CSO since 1982, which opened the evening. Its hallmarks were clarity, freshness of spirit and warmth, as Järvi illuminated details with inventive turns of every phrase.The orchestra’s attack was crisp and orchestral soloists soared. If a movement stood out, it was the minuet, which was unexpectedly robust and earthy.Stravinsky was inspired by world events – especially World War II – for his “Symphony in Three Movements” of 1945. Musically, the work is a brilliant synthesis of everything he’s known for: rhythmic energy, bubbling ostinatos, primitive power, lush orchestral color and neoclassicism.Its extraordinary twists and turns of mood, profusion of melodies and ever-changing rhythms and meters make it complex to play. Yet the directness and drive of this performance made it all clear, and the result was irresistible.It was all there – the brilliance, the drama and the tongue-in-cheek humor, such as the piano and trombone duo that launches the last-movement fugue. The orchestra’s playing was precise, and became more relaxed and spontaneous as they progressed.The “Stravinsky Festival” repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. 513-381-3300.

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