By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
His concerto was brilliant, but the encore - Liszt's dazzling "La Campanella" - had the crowd on its feet cheering.
For the second week, a spectacular pianist joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. On Friday morning, Chinese-born Yundi Li made his CSO debut with a spellbinding performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1. With Paavo J”rvi on the podium leading Brahms' Symphony No. 1, it was an unforgettable concert.
Li, 21, who will tour Japan with the CSO in November, displays the kind of effortless, note-perfect playing that wins contests (and he's won several). Besides that, he is a poetic musician who has something to say, and he says it with sensitivity and heart.
Throughout Chopin's glittering E Minor Concerto, Li wove an elegant tapestry of color; his keyboard-spanning runs sparkled. The "Romanze" had lovely expression, and he illuminated its themes with ringing tone. The dance finale took on a character that was both spontaneous and whimsical, and he and J”rvi were in perfect communion.
J”rvi's inspired reading of Brahms' C Minor Symphony, which concluded the concert, will be remembered as one of the great performances of the season. It was powerful, noble, and at times, heaven-rending.
The opening timpani strokes were steady heartbeats; the ensuing Allegro was full of drama. The strings played with bite; lyrical themes peeked through like sun in the clouds.
CSO soloists made polished contributions, including Timothy Lees' soaring violin solo in the slow movement and the great horn call of the finale (Thomas Sherwood). J”rvi brought out myriad details, building with intensity up to the stunning brass chorale of the finale.
J”rvi dedicated the program to cellist Geraldine Sutyak, a CSO member of 34 years who died last Sunday, and led Bach's "Air" from Suite No. 3 after intermission.
The curtain raiser was Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Emperor Waltzes.
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