Sunday, March 19, 2000

CSO soloists give rousing show

Enquirer contributor

        Friday night's Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert with Jesus Lopez-Cobos showcased members of the orchestra as soloists. It was an excellent opportunity to enjoy the outstanding talents of the CSO's players, and each of the featured musicians performed magnificently.

        The program opened with Arthur Honnegger's Pacific 231, a musical depiction of a high-speed train. Composed in 1923, the work is a brash and exuberant celebration of technology. The performance was well-executed but could have been much more energetic.

        Eric Bates, a member of the orchestra's first violin section and a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, gave a suave performance of Camille Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, op. 28. As befits the character of the work, Mr. Bates' soulful playing was greased with a generous dollop of salon schmaltz, and he was applauded with enthusiasm.

        The next piece, Bartok's First Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra, dispelled Saint-Saens' Parisian perfume. This gritty and melancholy work was inspired by Romanian and Hungarian folk music, and has a prominent part for the cimbalon (a Hungarian folk instrument related to the zither). Violinist Gerald Itzkoff's husky sound smoldered with intensity.

        Kathryn Robertson, who is a member of the first violin section, gave a passionate and virtuosic account of the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D, op. 35. Isolating single movements from extended works in a serious concert is a dubious practice and smacks of radio-style programming. However, Ms. Robert son played superbly and managed to leave one quite satisfied with only a fragment of the concerto.

        Certainly the most striking piece on the program was Australian composer Richard Mill's Soundscapes for Percussion and Orchestra. Brilliantly performed by CSO percussionist Richard Jensen, this bright, energetic work is a sparkling kaleidoscope of timbres and textures.

        Violist Julian Wilkison gave a sensitive, finely etched performance of the first movement of Bartok's Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, one of the composer's last works.

        Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra was a fitting conclusion to a concert that celebrated the orchestra itself. Sonorously narrated by Mark Perzel, the piece gave each section of the orchestra a chance to shine. The woodwinds in particular did an excellent job. The rousing fugue that concludes the work showed the CSO at its best.


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