Monday, September 27, 2004

Violinist portrays cycle of 'Seasons'

Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
Enquirer staff writer

Antonio Vivaldi added descriptive words into the margins of his masterpiece, The Four Seasons, so that musicians would know when to evoke a barking dog or a thunderclap.

On Sunday, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra gave the experience a 21st-century twist, with a PowerPoint projection of Vivaldi's sonnets cued to each musical phrase for all to see.

It may have enhanced the listener's experienced. But it was hardly needed with the dynamic presence of violinist Lara St. John, who took the famous solo in the four concertos labeled Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

St. John was center stage in Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Mischa Santora was on the podium to open the Chamber Orchestra's 30th anniversary season. The program ended with a glowing performance of an equally picturesque piece: Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, Pastoral.

Known for rocking the establishment with her album covers, St. John proved to be just as individual in her musical interpretation. The tone she projected on her Guadagnini violin was not always beautiful, but it was expressive and commanding, and she wasn't afraid to take risks.

An emotive performer, she launched into Summer with a supercharged duet with cellist Christina Coletta, then let her intonation slide as she imitated a mournful turtle dove. In Summer's finale, which evokes a hailstorm, St. John's cadenza was an electrifying play of fire and sparks, and Santora's orchestra was just as driving.

There were many wonderful moments: the energized feel of Spring; the spontaneity of Autumn, and the shivering ice and snow of Winter, depicted with short bows and shivering trills. The violinist phrased Winter's slow movement in short, breathless gulps, and brought its finale to an exhilarating finish with easy virtuosity.

In a seamless collaboration, the orchestra matched the soloist for vibrancy and bravura playing.

In the second half, the Chamber Orchestra expanded its ranks to about 40 players for a deeply satisfying reading of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. Santora, leading without a score, was an alert leader, and his warm phrasing and vibrant tempos brought the music vividly to life.

The scherzo was lithe and brisk, with wonderful expression in the winds (oboist Chris Philpotts, bassoonist Hugh Michie and clarinetist Miriam Culley deserve kudos). Beethoven's storm music had considerable drama and intensity; as the clouds lifted, the strings glowed, and Santora brought the work to an expansive conclusion.

The concert repeats at 7:30 p.m. today in Greaves Hall, Northern Kentucky University. 723-1182.


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