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Edgy Emperor, scintillating Scheherezade

Orange County
Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre
07/25/2015 -  
Giuseppe Verdi: Overture to “La forza del destino”
Ludwig von Beethoven: Piano Concerto No° 5 in E-Flat major, Opus 73 “Emperor”
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade, Opus 35

Rueibin Chen (Piano), Raymond Kobler (Concertmaster)
Pacific Symphony, Alejandro Gutiérrez (Conductor)

(© Drew A. Kelley)

Alejando Gutiérrez took full cognizance of last night’s program with justifiable reason: it was his farewell address with Pacific Symphony announcing the return to his native Costa Rica. In this case, Director Carl St.Clair sat as an audience member, avouching Mr. Gutiérrez’s accolades that wind back to 2013 when he came to Orange County to fill the shoes of beloved Maxim Eshkenazy. Set against a pristine dusky backdrop, slices of musical delivery unfolded with interesting degrees of dramatic interpretation.

A Beethovenian thread grounded the evening’s selections by showcasing pieces influenced by his use of the “fate” motif. The brass announcement opening Verdi’s “Overture” to La forza del destino produced unblemished synchronization and demonstrated urgency without testiness. Despite the middle section’s oboe and clarinet solos hammering in the point of Verdi’s serioso, the overall Gutiérrez impression was polite and conscientious.

Likely a prerequisite for any aspiring pianiste extraordinaire, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is a “fantasy come true” for all keyboardists. Pacific Symphony had the honor of hosting Rueibin Chen to stake his own claim of artistry inside the score which, undoubtedly, possessed its own distinct virtuosity.

Chen’s overall take was more dramatic and less poetic: his opening remarks were vibrant and unabashed. While an intensity of dialoguing ensued with tutti orchestra, there was a certain sense of independence and isolation by Mr. Chen...he channeled the composition on his own terms. The dexterity, though brilliant and evincing, had a degree of impetuous edginess. Listeners enjoying a faster tempo needn’t rush to judge his display for no longueurs existed inside his “Adagio.” The conclusive “Rondo” had Chen whipping the movement by choice with ebullient snap without erring on the side of rounded softness. Occasionally he got caught up inside his own fingering, opting for alacrity instead of accuracy.

Where the night dazzled was inside the meticulous writing of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Here, Maestro Gutiérrez swept up the concertgoers by a band of musical notes on a magic carpet containing unrelenting, forward momentum. Raymond Kobler’s violin solo outlined an aura of diaphanous coloring despite a tempo being a tad rushed: it underemphasized the exoticism and sensual beauty of the symphonic poem.

On the other hand, in favor of this more hastened expression, the pacing created a scintillating charm that keenly funneled the listener into a musical whirlpool. All aspects of the orchestra (and other solos) were exceedingly adroit and precise: brass staccato was superb, woodwinds channeled loftiness, strings persistently dug into their notes with arresting beauty alongside subtly shifting crescendos and decrescendos. An overall clarity abounded. Pacific Symphony ought to be personally commended for such an extraordinary portrayal of the Rimsky-Korsakov piece.

Pacific Symphony Website

Christie Grimstad



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