Sunday, February 1, 2004

Lite menu delights symphony audience

Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In the dead of winter, what could be better than a concert of desserts?

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra presented a crowd-pleasing menu Friday morning, from Dvorak's tuneful Cello Concerto, starring the symphony's principal cellist Eric Kim, to the great hits of Wagner opera after intermission.

Guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda, a native of Milan, whipped up such a frenzy I feared he might dive off the podium a few times. His view of Wagner was truly cinematic, and the orchestra performed well for him. The real story here, though, is the remarkable ensemble the symphony has become under music director Paavo J”rvi, in less than three years.

Kim, who has led the cello section since 1989, took center stage in Dvorak's romantic masterpiece. He's a fine technician, and projected a big, glorious tone on his rare Grancino cello. His opening phrases were forceful; he pushed ahead in the first movement, and emphasized drama and virtuosity, easily tackling difficult glissandos and triple-stops. Sometimes, though, I wished for more heart.

Yet the slow movement was beautifully felt, and Kim phrased poetically through its songful melodies. The dance-like finale soared.

Noseda supported him with warmth and fervor, despite some rocky moments at first, and the crowd awarded a standing ovation.

Noseda is making a splash around the world, notably as principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. He commands the podium with a clear, expansive beat and a large helping of flair.

Wagner's Overture to Tannhauser had electrifying power. The opening chorale in the French horns was broad and expressive, and the strings were plush. Noseda went for the big gesture, though he missed some of the work's noble warmth.

The Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde is some of the most passionate music ever written. Here, the conductor's view was intense and involving; he swept the strings into enveloping climaxes, and led intimate, hushed moments beautifully.

The program closed with a briskly played Prelude to Die Meistersinger. The brass played thrillingly through staccato fanfares and weighty pomp. Noseda brought out humor in the winds, and the strings played their hearts out.

He opened the concert with the United States premiere of a new orchestration by Luciano Berio of J.S. Bach's Contrapunctus XIX from Art of the Fugue. The scoring for about 22 players was an uneven mix of brass, strings, harp, winds and saxophones. Because Bach died before he finished it, Berio tacked on his own odd coda - a dissonant drone that brought back memories of his new ending to Cincinnati Opera's Turandot last summer.


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