Saturday, March 04, 2000

Perick leads CSO in dazzling program

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The full power of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was felt in two opulent, post-romantic pieces Friday night.

        Guest conductor Christof Perick returned to the CSO for a second visit since his 1998 debut, with an intriguing calling card of works by Franz Schreker and Richard Strauss.

        They formed massive bookends to Haydn's Cello Concerto in D Major, performed by the CSO's principal cellist Eric Kim.

        Perhaps the sparse house — 1,109 listeners — was a reaction to the lesser-known works on the program. Schreker's Prelude to a Drama (1913), was only performed once before, under Michael Gielen in 1983. But the Austrian composer's music is a stunning find; it is imaginative, and written in a musical language similar to Mahler and Strauss.

        Mr. Perick, who is former music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Niedersachsisches Staatsorchester and Staatsoper in Hanover, Germany, maintained control of the CSO's enormous forces. An appealing conductor to watch, he is involved, musical and precise, and possesses a clear beat.

        Leading without a score, he created a wonderful palette of colors in the Prelude, eliciting shimmering sonorities yet managing to bring out inner themes and keep a good balance. The musicians responded to his direction with excellent playing.

        Strauss' Symphonia Domestica, heard after intermission, has not enjoyed the popularity of his other tone poems, perhaps for its R-rated program. (It includes a musically graphic description of married bliss in the bedroom.)

        Mr. Perick led animatedly, drawing warm, dedicated playing from the musicians. His reading was richly detailed, allowing the listener to follow Strauss' idyllic domestic scenes, play-by-play.

        Despite sweeping, lush textures and waves of crescendos, the conductor kept a good balance, and orchestral soloists shone. A striking timbre was created by the oboe d'amore (played by Michael Kenyon), which represented the “Baby.”

        The brass sounded spectacular, and never overpowered; the winds performed their roles with character.

        If the opulent orchestration and long, arching themes spoke a tale of overblown excess — musically speaking — the Haydn Cello Concerto in D Major, with only 28 players, offered a stark contrast.

        The fiendishly difficult concerto, performed by principal cellist Eric Kim, 35, was the same concerto heard in January at the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra (with Edward Arron). Mr. Kim tackled it with big-boned phrasing, lots of vibrato and a full-bodied tone. He does not linger on phrases, but rather impetuously digs into them.

        The cadenzas were well-executed and virtuosic, and Mr. Kim is a remarkable technician. However, this did not seem his best work. More charm and affection, especially in the finale, would have given the piece some balance between technical fireworks and lyrical beauty.


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