Sunday, September 17, 2000

CSO 'special season' starts auspiciously

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “It will be a special season that I will treasure in the future,” music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos, 60, told the audience at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's opening night concert in Music Hall.

        The Spanish maestro launched his final season as music director Friday with an excellent performance and a superb guest artist, the guitarist Pepe Romero.

        The final ingredient was an interesting program, including an enchanting new guitar concerto by fellow Spaniard Lorenzo Palomo and Shostakovich's youthful Symphony No. 1, the latter to be recorded for Telarc.

        The only disappointment was the turnout (1,578), a challenge that Mr. Lopez-Cobos' successor Paavo Jarvi will face when he comes next year.

        Mr. Romero, of the distinguished Romero family, plays with warmth, imagination and flawless technique. Using the guitar that belonged to his father, Celedonio Romero, he performed the CSO premiere of Mr. Palomo's Nocturnos de Andalucia. (He gave its world premiere in 1996.)

        An evocative work in six movements, the Andalusian Nocturnes featured, not surprisingly, flamenco rhythms, Spanish folk songs and improvisatory melodies. It was all woven into a sophisticated, colorful tapestry, included exceptional writing for the orchestra's winds, as well as the guitar.

        Mr. Romero held a compelling dialogue with the orchestra in the first movement, “A Toast to the Night,” with its busy, staccato writing interrupted by moments of haunting lyricism.

        The heart of the piece was “Nocturne of Cordoba” (No. 5), which was moving for its simple beauty, where Mr. Romero's delicate, detached tones had the effect of dewdrops on petals. His sound, amplified by a microphone, was almost vocal; his cadenzas were feats of clarity, virtuosity and elegance.

        Mr. Lopez-Cobos was a sympathetic partner. Notable contributions were made by new associate principal clarinetist Anthony McGill and English hornist Christo pher Philpotts (stepping in for Robert Walter, on leave this year).

        The collaboration received a cheering standing ovation, with the composer sharing much-deserved bows. Mr. Romero treated the crowd with a mesmerizing encore: Francisco Tarrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

        Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 1 at age 19. It owes much to Prokofiev, with angular themes and lean writing. The first movement was well-executed, though a bit tense, and Mr. Lopez-Cobos achieved a memorable lightness of texture.

        His tempo in the scherzo was too frenzied for orchestral soloists to play cleanly. The pace and dynamics were more convincing in the final two movements.

        Orchestral soloists rose to the occasion, including fine contributions from principal clarinetist Richard Hawley, principal hornist Robin Graham and concertmaster Timothy Lees.

        The program opened with an engaging reading of Ruperto Chapi's Prelude to La Revoltosa. .


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