Monday, May 04, 2009

Brahms a magnificent finale to season


From Cincinnati.com on Thursday, April 30, 2009

By Janelle Gelfand

How rare it is to see a guest soloist at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra share the stage with his father, who is a member of the orchestra. On Thursday, “French” rising star Nicholas Angelich returned to his hometown to perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in Music Hall. With his dad Borivoje Angelich playing in the violin section as he has since 1965, the younger musician delivered a performance that can only be described as inspired.

Conducted by Paavo Järvi, the orchestra’s final concert of the season had other rarities which were equally rewarding, notably Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6.

Nicholas Angelich left Ohio at age 13 to study in Paris, and returned to the U.S. to win several prestigious piano competitions. Although he has performed with the CSO, the New York Philharmonic and the Atlanta Symphony, he has built his career mainly in Europe. His recent recordings of Brahms are especially fine.

So it was a treat to hear him play Brahms’ D Minor Concerto, one of the most emotional masterpieces this composer ever wrote. It weighs drama and turmoil against enormous lyrical beauty, and pianists may be tempted to tackle it with too much bombast.

Yet Angelich’s view was heartfelt and genuine. He communicated a profound understanding for Brahms’ noble themes, playing with depth, warmth and a sonorous tonal palette. His technique was effortless, and he summoned plenty of power in the peaks.

The beauty of his touch was something to behold in the slow movement, and each phrase was deeply felt. The finale was adrenalin-charged, yet he communicated its romantic mood with great sweeps of color and lyricism.

Järvi and the orchestra made excellent partners, adding warmth and spontaneity. The horn calls (Tom Sherwood) added magic to the first movement.

Although Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6, which concluded the program, is not as popular as his Fifth, some believe it is his greatest symphony. Written in 1947, it was the composer’s statement that despite Soviet victory, no one escaped World War II unscathed.

It is a remarkable piece. From the first note, Järvi led an intensely powerful, driving reading of this haunting music, which seems to wear emotion on its sleeve. It was rich with Prokofiev’s sudden harmonic turns and melodies, but also had a grotesque undercurrent, which Järvi emphasized relentlessly.

The orchestra performed with polish, from clipped, staccato themes in winds and brass to the powerful, all-encompassing sonority of the strings in the “Largo” movement. After the first two searing movements, the gay finale, a “Vivace,” was a stark contrast. Still, Järvi led with such fierceness and such a frenzied tempo, that the tension never let up.

The program opened with the CSO’s first performance of Benjamin Britten’s “An American Overture.” It was not as cleanly played, and its disjunct parts didn’t add up to a whole.

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