Tuesday, January 15, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO program sensitive, colorful

January 14, 2008

The Cincinnati Enquirer

He’s made his reputation in the big, blockbuster Russian repertory. But pianist Alexander Toradze’s sensitive side should never be underestimated, as he proved in Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Sunday afternoon in Music Hall.
Toradze’s spectacular performance of this under-appreciated concerto rounded out Paavo Järvi’s colorful – and perhaps unexpectedly engaging – program that included Mussorgsky’s popular tone picture, “Night on Bald Mountain.” The tongue-in-cheek Shostakovich made a thoughtful prelude to the orchestra’s first performance of Carl Nielsen’s quirky Symphony No. 2, “The Four Temperaments,” which concluded the afternoon.
Shostakovich wrote his Concerto No. 2 for his 19-year-old son, Maxim, in 1957. Its lighthearted character mirrors a happier time in the post-Stalin era for the composer, and the exquisite slow movement might easily have found a home in one of his film scores.
At the piano, Toradze’s bear-like figure and cherubic face belied his formidable technique, superb communication and explosive style. He plunged into the opening allegro with a pointed attack, and his wit and sudden shifts of mood were matched note-for-note by Järvi’s orchestra.
He poured his soul and his immense technique into the first movement, with its fistfuls of pianistic tests that are meant to mimic student etudes. But this was no technical exercise; the pianist summoned gorgeous color in the slow movement, accompanied only by muted strings, in one of the most hauntingly beautiful moments I’ve ever heard for piano and orchestra. The finale was a galloping rondo, and the pianist leaped off his bench at the cut-off.“Night on Bald Mountain” (arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov), which opened the program, was brilliantly, if not altogether cleanly played. The conductor swept up his players in the imagery of a witches’ Sabbath with a combination of ecstasy and fury, emphasizing the trombones and basses. After intermission, Mussorgsky’s “Dawn over the Moskva River” (from his opera, “Khovanshchina”), was music that magically evoked the dawn on Red Square in Moscow, with horns and timpani beautifully creating the great bells of the Kremlin. (Both will be recorded in a Mussorgsky album for Telarc.)If there was a connecting thread to Nielsen’s Second, it was that this music was also inspired by imagery. The Second has all the power and majesty of a Nielsen symphony, but it is also somewhat odd and unpredictable. Nielsen’s four movements represent “The Four Temperaments” as seen in a picture: The choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine. Järvi made an excellent case for the music, painting a powerful portrait in the opening “Allegro collerico.” It was all angles and jerky rhythms, with the unsettled feeling of a character who is driven. Perhaps the most appealing was the melancholy third movement, which showcased orchestral wind soloists, and included an expansive theme in the horns. Järvi led vigorously and with enormous detail, coaxing intensity from the strings, and the musicians responded with superb playing.

Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is soloist with the CSO, Thursday through Saturday in Music Hall. 513-381-3300, http://www.cincinnatisymphony.org/.

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