Monday, April 29, 2002

Clarinetist jazzes up Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra

Guests treat CCO and audience to spirited season finale

By Janelle Gelfand,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There was a moment near the end of the Copland Clarinet Concerto on Sunday, when clarinetist David Shifrin's playing with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra turned into a swinging jam session. That led into the final, heart-stopping smear by Mr. Shifrin, an exhilarating finish to a thrilling performance.

        The Chamber Orchestra finished its season in Memorial Hall with an up-and-coming guest conductor, Rossen Milanov, and Mr. Shifrin — both making their CCO debuts — in what turned out to be one of the season's most appealing programs.

        Certainly, if there are but a handful of superstar clarinetists in the world, Mr. Shifrin is one of them. Because Copland wrote his concerto for Benny Goodman, jazz is a natural part of the work. What was so arresting about Mr. Shifrin's jazz was the spontaneous way he arrived in that world; it was so seamless, you barely noticed the transition.

        He played the serene opening with bent knees, slowly turning as he spun a mellifluous line with a mellow tone. The cadenza which separates the two movements was effortless and superbly controlled, from the high notes to the basement. It offered a hint of the jazz to come: sophisticated, swinging, conversational and witty.

        Mr. Milanov followed the clarinetist's every move skillfully, and was at home in the idiom. The strings had wonderful contour in the slow movement and the finale was vibrant. Best of all, the communication between soloist and maestro was winning, and the audience of 407 gave the first of two standing ovations.

        Mr. Shifrin, who is artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and a professor at Yale, has recorded the Copland on EMI with the New York Chamber Symphony.

        Mr. Milanov, 37, is music director of an orchestra in his native Sofia, Bulgaria, as well as the Haddonfield Symphony in New Jersey. American-trained, he is expressive and animated, with a clear technique.

        He opened with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, where his relaxed opening tempos allowed phrases to breathe. The horns provided wonderful color, but there were some balance problems, which I attribute to the most problematic acoustics in the city. By the finale, Mr. Milanov had struck a better balance; concertmaster James Braid caught the smiling spirit well in his solo.

        Mr. Milanov led an elegant reading of Copland's brief Prelude to Symphony No. 1, capturing its French aura with an ear for sonority and color.

        The afternoon concluded with Haydn's theatrical Symphony No. 60, Il Distratto — which originated as incidental music to a farce. It was energetic, richly detailed — and humorous. The conductor brought out its drama as well as its fun: the surprise finale made the audience laugh out loud.

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


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