Friday, May 11, 2001

Concert review

Violinist adds flair to Lopez-Cobos' finale

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        You couldn't blame the audience at Thursday's Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert for prematurely applauding after Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg completed the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg, who is both admired and panned for her supercharged performances, did not disappoint with the passion and showmanship she poured into the familiar concerto.

        The violinist helped bring an era to a close in this, the final subscription concert conducted by music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos. Mr. Lopez-Cobos ended his 15-year tenure by revisiting Mahler's massive Symphony No. 5, which brought the substantial Music Hall audience to its feet for a second time Thursday evening.

        Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg is a risk-taker, a gutsy player who takes liberties and visibly feels every note. From her first phrase, her playing was original, personal and unpredictable.

        She exploited the Russian soulfulness of this work, lingering on its lyricism and using rubato liber ally. Then she threw herself into virtuosic passages with such dazzling intensity that you expected her strings to smoke.

        The first movement cadenza was full of romantic slides — sometimes at the expense of precision. The Canzonetta was sentimental and warm; she used a big vibrato to project a dark quality on her 1721 Guarneri violin.

        The violinist smiled broadly as she tackled the finale's difficulties with flair.

        Mr. Lopez-Cobos stayed with her, despite her tugging of the tempo, but the orchestra sounded bland and tentative.

        Mahler's Fifth is a universe of emotions. Its first two movements are desolation and bleakness; the final three glow with beautiful Wunderhorn feeling.

        The Funeral March reflected both pain and nostalgia (with stunning playing by trumpeter Philip Collins), and Mr. Lopez-Cobos' buildups were biting.

        Still, his interpretation did not flow. The heart of the work was the serene Adagietto, to which Mr. Lopez-Cobos brought tender expression. The finale was exuberant, with powerful contributions from winds and brass.


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