Saturday, October 18, 2003

High-speed fiddle fireworks impress symphony crowd

Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Fun was the word that best described the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert Friday morning, when fiddler extraordinaire Mark O'Connor took center stage at Music Hall.

O'Connor's fiddle concerto, The American Seasons, was one of three CSO premieres in an engaging all-American program led by guest maestro Michael Morgan. But that wasn't all: CSO principal trombonist Cristian Ganicenco wowed with a virtuoso performance of Paul Creston's Fantasy, in his solo debut.

O'Connor, 42, a former Nashville session fiddler who "retired" at age 29 to follow his own path, is an artist of amazing versatility. His concerto, patterned on Shakespeare's "Seasons of Man" from As You Like It, is a meeting of country and classical by one of America's most inventive minds. It was clear from the start that this is the kind of music that communicates to today's audience: The crowd cheered as he rocketed to the finish in a tour-de-force of high-speed fiddle fireworks and soaring whines.

"Spring" was rich in American folk moods, with a cadenza that showed off O'Connor's wizardry. An accomplished violinist, O'Connor navigated double stops, glissandos and wailing slurs without flinching, combining classical technique with Texas fiddling and jazz violin. One of the highlights was the fugue in "Winter" that played out in the small string orchestra, while O'Connor decorated with filigree above.

The rhapsodic "Fall" movement displayed his honeyed tone and dead-on intonation, as well as his gift for writing melody.

After intermission, the CSO's Ganicenco took his first bows in Creston's trombone Fantasy. An energetic showpiece with bold melodies and urbane, jazzy licks, it demands pristine attack and a pure, mellow tone. Ganicenco had those, and more, and nailed its leaps and soaring themes with confidence and beauty.

On the podium, Morgan, who is music director of Oakland East Bay Symphony, showed his stuff in the ballet score from Leonard Bernstein's Fancy Free. An articulate speaker, he explained that Billie Holiday would be singing "Big Stuff," as she had in the original ballet. And so she did. The orchestra's opening dance scene was bold, brash and unmistakably Bernstein. Morgan captured its swing and upbeat moods, and the orchestra responded with spirited playing.

Charles Griffes' The White Peacock, which opened, was an impressionistic painting in luxuriant colors.


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