Sunday, March 16, 2003

Wigglesworth's a name worth remembering


Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Remember the name Mark Wigglesworth, because you are going to be seeing more of this talented young conductor.

In his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra debut as guest conductor Friday night, Wigglesworth led the most probing reading of Elgar's Enigma Variations heard here in decades. One could wonder whether the British-born maestro might just have an affinity for the music of his countrymen. But he was equally impressive for his sensitive work in Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, with the stunning Finnish mezzo-soprano Monica Groop.

One of the puzzles of Elgar's Variations on an Original Theme surrounded the identity of the friends that the composer depicted in each variation. We know the identities now - but rarely does one hear such wonderful characterizations of them, as if looking in the psyches of many different personalities.

Wigglesworth is slight of build, but he's a dynamo on the podium and has much to say. The opening Theme was expansive and romantic, with an organ-like richness in the double basses that carried over into the whole work. The conductor's phrasing was consistently interesting, and the musicians responded with inspired playing: clean winds, broad and powerful brass, and warmth in the strings.

The fleeting moods were strongly colored, and CSO soloists rose to the occasion. Timpanist Eugene Espino whipped up excitement in Variation 7, and principal violist Marna Street made eloquent contributions, notably in the Dorabella Variation.

The heart of the work was Nimrod. Its opening had breathtaking color; a cloud-like lightness that steadily mounted as if scaling a peak, then pausing to drink in the beauty at the summit.

The final variation was simply thrilling as the conductor summoned the power of the Cincinnati brass with great flair, and inspired the audience to its feet.

The other extraordinary debut was the evening's soloist, Groop, who projected a radiant presence from the first note of Mahler's exquisitely sad orchestral song cycle, Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Deaths of Children). Its texts are by Friedrich Ruckert, who was grief-stricken by his own children's' deaths.

Groop communicated a genuine quality as she journeyed through the work's deep emotions. The first song, of the sun that rises despite one's grief, had a tender poignancy, cast against a backdrop of delicate orchestral colors. The last song had a sweet, lingering sadness. The mezzo sang the despairing words of each song with deep feeling and a ravishing, velvety tone.

Wigglesworth was a superb partner, capturing stormy and heart-wrenching moments vividly.

He opened the program with Webern's post-romantic Passacaglia Op. 1. The program included Mahler's Blumine, a gem extracted from Symphony No. 1.

The evening's real enigma, though, was why the crowd was so small.

E-mail jgelfand@enquirer.com




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