Monday, September 29, 2003

CCO opener imperfect but enjoyable



By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra opened its season with a powerful performance of Beethoven's Third Sunday afternoon at Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati. While some moments in the Berg and Beethoven program were unsettled, it ended on a strong note.

One of music director Mischa Santora's best ideas was to give a mini-demonstration of themes in Berg's Three Pieces from the Lyric Suite, which opened the concert. It prepared the audience for a piece that bridges post-romanticism and 12-tone.

Originally written for string quartet, the Lyric Suite has moments, such as the Allegro misterioso, that are tricky to play precisely by chamber orchestra. But the players captured its moods and colors well, and Santora approached the work's angular themes warmly. The strings soared in the Adagio appassionato, and assistant concertmaster Jennifer Roig-Francoli phrased her solo beautifully.

When pianist Claude Frank canceled this week because he had a pacemaker implanted (he's doing well), Cincinnati pianist Michael Chertock stepped in to take on Beethoven's Concerto No. 4.

It was heroic to tackle this monument of the piano literature; the first movement alone is both massive and profound. Chertock is a thoughtful musician with stunning technique - his first movement cadenza was a high point of musicality and pacing. But there were a few insecure passages (a hazard of last-minute preparation) and I wished for more depth and sonority.

The slow movement was more relaxed, and Chertock projected a luminous tone. The dance-like finale was vibrant, though a bit too heavy for the orchestra.

Santora concluded the afternoon with Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Eroica. His tempos were fast, which gave the music a supercharged intensity, but somehow robbed it of warmth.

Yet the musicians rose to the challenge. The horns, led by Steven Gross, were superb; the winds phrased with character (kudos to oboist Christopher Philpotts), and the strings had pointed, clear counterpoint.

Even the Funeral March pushed ahead, which made it a powerful, if not spiritual, experience. Santora dug into the dynamic contrasts of the scherzo. He elicited a tremendous sound from his players in the finale, sometimes leaping in the air for emphasis, and they played on the edges of their seats.

After intermission, Santora read a letter from former music director Keith Lockhart in honor of James Braid, concertmaster since 1982, who is stepping down. Braid received a standing ovation.

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The concert repeats at 7:30 p.m. today in Greaves Hall. 723-1182.E-mail jgelfand@enquirer.com




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