Saturday, November 10, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Kim's tribute to Rostropovich is masterful

November 10, 2007
By Mary Ellyn Hutton Cincinnati Post music writer
Talk about virtuoso.
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Eric Kim did honor to the greatest cellist of the 20th century (and probably any century) Friday night at Music Hall.
Kim was featured soloist in Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, dedicated, as was the entire concert, to the memory of Mstislav Rostropovich who died last spring (the work was written for and premiered by him in 1959).
Rostropovich would have been proud to hear the work performed with such depth of insight and mastery. In fact, like Beethoven last weekend (his "Eroica" Symphony), Kim and Shostakovich stole the show.
The concert, led by CSO music director Paavo Jarvi, was the second of the CSO's ongoing Stravinsky Festival, a focus on some of the composer's less often heard works that continues with his "L'histoire du soldat," to be performed by the CSO chamber Players Nov. 16 at Memorial Hall.
The Stravinsky fare Friday was his Symphony in Three Movements, a deceptively titled work that has the punch of his popular ballets like "The Rite of Spring." (Those who left at intermission expecting something dry or cerebral missed a listening experience of the first order.)
Kim glorified Shostakovich's mid-century work in every way. He met its technical demands with ease - never have double stops in thumb position sounded so easy. And the sound Kim drew from his cello! Beautiful is inadequate to describe it.
The first movement is dominated by a motoric, four-note motif, announced by the cello, similar to the composer's "motto" theme (a spelling of his initials in musical notation). It was high-pitched excitement from the start, including some splendid solos by principal hornist Elizabeth Freimuth and a perfectly timed ending delivered like a rifle shot by principal timpanist Patrick Schleker.
The second movement unfolded against a plaintive fabric of violas. There were some uncanny woodwind sonorities and ethereal dialogues with Kim, who capped a passage of fingered harmonics with muffled bow strokes against a soft timpani roll.
The third movement cadenza was astonishing - not just a showpiece, but a deep musical immersion that brought a hush to the hall. Shostakovich's satiric bite returned in the finale (which supposedly quotes Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's favorite song), along with the motto theme and some great chattering and cackling by the winds. The applause and cheers for Kim and the CSO were long and well deserved.
The Symphony in Three Movements was written under the "influence" of world events, Stravinsky wrote, specifically World War II and brutality he witnessed in pre-war Nazi Germany. Whatever the inspiration, it has all the "Rite" stuff, from propulsive rhythms and swatches of melody reminiscent of the maidens' "Spring Ronds" to the whooping horns of the "Sacrificial Dance" in "Rite of Spring." Pianist Michael Chertock was a standout in the outer movements, where the piano plays an important role, as was principal harpist Gillian Benet Sella in the more lyrical Andante, whose origin as music Stravinsky wrote for a vision of the Virgin Mary in the 1940s film "Song of Bernadette" resonated once or twice.
The final movement, which the composer likened to a "plot" about the defeat of the Nazis by the Allies, began with march-like optimism devolving into a delightful, bumbling "fugue" by piano, trombone and harp. The Yankees came to the rescue in racing spiccato figures in the strings and an all-stops pulled assault ending with a ringing, jazzy chord.
Jarvi opened with Haydn's Symphony No. 98, chosen, perhaps, because, like so much of Stravinsky, it has a surprise in it. Audience members may have wondered what Chertock was doing sitting at the harpsichord until a few bars before the end, where he suddenly added some rushing figures on the keyboard.
Repeat is 8 tonight at Music Hall.

No comments: