Saturday, July 22, 2000

Rostropovich had it right: Watch Daniel Lee

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If 20-year-old cellist Daniel Lee played the Rococo Variations like a veteran Friday night with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra — it was because he has been performing the piece for nine years.

        Mr. Lee made his CSO debut at Riverbend in Tchaikovky's showpiece, the same piece that won him the admiration of superstar Mstislav Rostropovich when he was just 11. What Mr. Rostropovich must have seen then has developed into true artistry. Mr. Lee is a young talent to watch.

        Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme are the test of any cellist, calling for fireworks, poet ry and a touch of Russian soul. Mr. Lee balanced these elegantly, projecting a big, rich tone that sang sweetly in the high registers.

        He has fine technique without showiness, although the flashier passages had plenty of flair. An expressive, serious performer, the cellist phrased eloquently, and gave his lyrical moments a slightly brooding quality.

        The cadenza was not only a feat of double stops, high harmonics and brilliant figures, but it was well paced and structured.

        Mr. Lee knew when to pull back, and when to push ahead. In the fiendishly difficult finale, he kept one eye on concertmaster Timothy Lees, as if they were playing chamber music. It was an exciting finish, and many of the 1,266 Riverbend listeners leaped to their feet. Music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos was a sensitive accompanist.

        Friday's weather was ideal for the CSO's Viennafest 2000, which includes the now-annual tradition of preconcert Viennese waltzing, games and strolling performers.

        In keeping with the theme, Mr. Lopez-Cobos opened with Lehar's Overture to The Merry Widow. It was Viennese froth that might have been played with more lightness and finesse. Riverbend's amplification system distorted the balance where I was sitting, making the violins sound weak.

        The sound was fine after intermission, though, in Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Eroica. Al though the musicians performed all the notes, their hearts did not seem to be in it until the finale.

        The tempo of the Allegro con brio got progressively slower. Without forward drive and tension, Beethoven's sense of struggle and triumph, of power and vigor cannot be sustained.

        Tempos remained inconsistent; the Funeral March was perfunctory rather than deeply felt. Still, the winds played beautifully, the horns shone, and the strings played with intensity.

        In the finale, Mr. Lopez-Cobos led his forces to a triumphant conclusion.

        The CSO Riverbend season continues at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 381-3300.


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