Sunday, April 27, 2003

Guitars, CSO fail to ignite passion

Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra audience might have expected fire and flair when Los Romeros, the "royal family of the guitar," took Music Hall's stage for the United States premiere of Concierto de Cienfuegos - Concerto of a Hundred Fires - in Friday morning's concert.

But the fire didn't come until their encore, "Noche en Malaga" (Night in Malaga), composed by the family patriarch, Celedonio Romero. Here was the full-bodied "flamenco" style, with its rhythmic strumming, Spanish melodies and improvisatory solo displays that brought the audience to its feet.

In the end, despite the fame and artistry of the guitar quartet, it was the virtuosity of the CSO and its principal players that shone.

The CSO's Spanish-born former music director, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, was on the podium for a lightweight program that included Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol and Scheherazade.

Lorenzo Palomo, 65, wrote his Cienfuegos Concerto in honor of Celedonio Romero, who died in 1996. Named for the city where he was born, the three-movement work evokes nocturnal moods of Andalucia and Cuba.

Its finer moments included the delicate tapestry of colors between guitars and orchestra in the first two movements, and the finale's interplay between the guitarists and a colorful percussion section - including bongos, maracas, and congas.

Unfortunately, the piece just wasn't very interesting, and its generic Spanish themes were not well developed. The soloists' material was understated, and tended to meander. Much of the time, it emphasized the first guitarist (Pepe Romero), with the others merely accompanying.

Making their CSO debut as a quartet, the Romeros breathed together as one, and displayed a high degree of technical finesse. The quartet personnel, whom have expanded to the third generation of Romeros, included Celino with his son Celin, Pepe and Lito (son of third brother Angel).

Despite amplification, the subtleties of their playing was often lost or covered by the orchestra.

After intermission, Scheherazade, inspired by "The Arabian Nights," was as beguiling and fresh as the concerto was not. Lopez-Cobos' view was atmospheric and warm, and the orchestra responded with exceptional playing.

The strings glowed with color, and the conductor gauged the work's climaxes in great waves of sound.

In the "role" of Scheherazade, concertmaster Timothy Lees projected a pure, seductive and liquid tone; he phrased his fantasy-like solos imaginatively. Lopez-Cobos gave full rein to the other orchestral solos, and there were notable contributions from many, including bassoonist William Winstead, clarinetist Richard Hawley and hornist Thomas Sherwood.

Lopez-Cobos, who is music director-designate of Madrid's Teatro Real, kept the power of the brass in check, until the huge "shipwreck" climax of the finale.

The opening Capriccio espagnol was less persuasive. In a puzzling contrast, Lopez-Cobos led the Spanish-tinged showpiece with little flexibility and the reading was devoid of drama or flair.


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