Friday, March 26, 2010

CSO, soloists shine again with "Scheherazade"

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer
March 26, 2010

You’ll never hear the soloists of a great orchestra displayed any better than they were in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s “Scheherazade,” performed Thursday night in Music Hall.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite based on the tales of “The Thousand and One Arabian Nights” placed concertmaster Timothy Lees in the spotlight. But it was also a showpiece for many other orchestral soloists, and it was all delivered with a freshness of spirit and lyrical beauty that lingered long after the performance ended.

With Paavo Järvi on the podium, this was a gem of a program on exotic themes, which brought back rarely heard ballet music by Paul Dukas – “La Peri” – as well as Mozart’s scintillating Overture to “The Abduction from the Seraglio.”

Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” which came after intermission, is a suite of fantastic tone pictures, ranging from the sea and Sinbad’s ship to a love story of a prince and princess. It is the solo violinist who plays the role of the sultana Scheherazade, who weaves her magnificent tales for the murderous sultan, thus saving her own life.

Lees, 41, who joined the orchestra in 1998, was masterful as he wove his narrative connecting each tale. He projected a sweet, pure tone on his instrument, a J.B. Vuillaume violin, and summoned a range of emotion from his beguiling opening, to moments of intensity and passion. He communicated wonderfully with his colleagues, who added their own moments of color and expressive beauty.

Järvi’s canvas was seamless and gripping, and he interpreted the magical score with a combination of feeling and flair. He created drama in the sweeping waves in “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” and pulled back to allow for stunning dialogues between soloists. He allowed the winds complete freedom in the second movement, “The Tale of Prince Kalendar,” which gave it an improvisatory flavor.

Clarinetist Richie Hawley provided a soaring cadenza, and harpist Gillian Benet Sella provided her own impressive flourishes.

It was all vividly portrayed. The orchestra played with enormous precision and virtuosity, yet there was also a lightness and transparency to the strings that made this truly memorable.

Dukas’ “La Peri,” written to a tale from Persian mythology, was substituted after the Norwegian cellist Truls Mork was forced to cancel his entire season due to illness. It proved to be a fine choice.

The work opened with a terrific brass fanfare. The 11 brass players, who stood, delivered a superb, bold curtain-raiser to the ballet score, which was composed for the Ballets Russes. Dukas is more known for his tone painting, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and immediately, one was in a familiar sound world that was magical, delicate and colorful. Järvi was a master at creating sumptuous textures while managing to illuminate subtle details, and the orchestra responded with beautiful playing.

Mozart’s comic opera, “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” is an example of Viennese interest in the “exotic” Turkish culture. The Overture made a witty, exuberant opening.
It’s another winner.

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