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Old Friend, New Friend at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Music Hall
01/05/2012 -  & January 7, 2012
Robert Schumann: Manfred: Overture
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, K.482
Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op.100

Emanuel Ax (piano)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pablo Heras-Casado (Conductor)

P. Heras-Casado (Courtesy of CSO)

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra began the New Year by extending a warm welcome to guest conductor Pablo Heras-Casado and a warm welcome back to pianist Emanuel Ax. The two shared a program of 18th, 19th and 20th-century music that went down well with the post-holiday crowd.

Spanish-born Heras-Casado, 34, who made his CSO debut, bears watching, chiefly because Cincinnati is in the thick of a music director search (former CSO music director Paavo Järvi stepped down at the end of the 2010-201l season). Newly-appointed principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York, he comes with a sheaf of credits and wide-ranging experience, from early music to opera to the latest contemporary scores.

Ax, as usual, made artistry look easy, joining Heras-Casado and the CSO in a splendid performance of Mozart’s 22nd Concerto. Ever-so-sensitive on the keys, he played with natural precision, each phrase beautifully melded into the next and crafted for utmost collaboration with the CSO musicians. The Andante, one of the composer’s most moving, featured lovely dialogue by flutist Jasmine Choi and bassoonist William Winstead. The finale, with its jolly rondo theme, drew a standing ovation (but no encore).

Heras-Casado, who conducts without a baton, radiated joy in all that he did. He led with sweeping gestures, eloquent but not affected, and achieved notably transparent textures. The concert’s “big” work was Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, a work of power and subtlety, with the emphasis here on subtlety. The first movement built to a suitably crashing ending, while the percussive second, with its abrupt, razor-cut end, seemed more like nicely controlled mischief than the composer’s trademark sarcasm. Balance between strings and woodwinds was ideal in the third movement (Andante) where velvety strings were given just the right edge of silver by piccoloist Joan Voorhees. The Allegro giocoso finale (joyous) was just that, lending full faith and credit to the composer’s description of the symphony as a “hymn to the freedom of the human spirit.”

The concert opened with Schumann’s Manfred overture, a reading somewhat lackluster in comparison to the Prokofiev, but perhaps more a victim of under-rehearsal.

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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