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Frühbeck Commands Cincinnati Symphony, Enthralls Audience

Music Hall
09/28/2012 -  & September 29, 2012
Manuel de Falla: Music from El amor brujo and Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Ottorino Respighi: Fontane di Roma – Pini di Roma

Jorge Federico Osorio (piano)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (creative director, conductor)

R. Frühbeck de Burgos (Courtesy of CSO)

The designation “maestro” (“master”) is commonly used to refer to a symphony conductor. It is fully deserved, however, by relatively few. One of them is Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. The Spanish maestro entered his second season as creative director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (responsible for planning half of its 20-concert season) Sept. 28 at Music Hall. To say that the 79-year-old Frühbeck enthralled his audience is no exaggeration. He had a splashy program to help him, with music by Manuel de Falla and Ottorino Respighi, and a highly skilled ensemble willing to place its complete trust in him. Such trust is indispensable for a true maestro.

Frühbeck, who led the entire program from memory, conducted seated (he was on medical leave for part of last season). He led with pinpoint precision, every cue, every nuance securely in place, and communication flowed easily between him and his players.

First on the program was music from Falla’s ballet El amor brujo, the gypsy-inspired tale of young lovers haunted by a deceased lover. Eleven of the 13 movements were performed. Scene setting was vivid, from the spooky beginning to the famous “Ritual Fire Dance,” with its menacing viola trills and pounding horn motif. CSO principal players made delicious contributions throughout, including oboist Dwight Parry in “Scene” following the “Ritual Fire Dance,” cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn in “Pantomime” accompanied by a tasty “frosting” of flutes, and violist Christian Colbert in the penultimate “Dance of the Game of Love.” Tubular bells in the Finale brought the message of love conquers all to a triumphant conclusion.

Mexican-born pianist Jorge Federico Osorio joined Frühbeck and the CSO in Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a highly evocative reading that cast a further Andalusian spell. His playing was hand-in-glove with the orchestra in this impressionistic work, and balances were excellent. A painterly pianist, he could make the keys peal like a trumpet or resound like a string section, depending on the musical moment. His well-earned encore followed suit with Enrique Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 5, “Andaluza.”

Two works from Respighi’s popular “Roman trilogy” followed intermission, the tone poems Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome. Both were feasts for the ear and made a perfect fit for over-sized, but acoustically welcoming Music Hall (which showed a bit too much red, with at least half of its 3,500 red velvet seats empty). The first movement, “Valle Giulia at Dawn” evoked pastoral imagery, with fine contributions by the CSO winds. “Triton Fountain at Morn” shot up brightly, “Trevi at Midday” rang out majestically, and “The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset” glowed warmly, with Christopher Philpotts on English horn.

Frühbeck and the CSO delivered a handsome Pines of Rome. Children gamboled in “The Pines of the Villa Borghese,” which concluded with delightfully brash discords. The sudden transition to “Pines Near a Catacomb” was seamless, as if the bottom had dropped out, leaving only dark, quiet strings and a heart-clutching offstage solo by principal trumpeter Robert Sullivan. “The Pines of the Janiculum” was beautifully paced, with lovely washes of sound by the strings, a fine solo by acting principal clarinetist Jonathan Gunn and a well-integrated, taped nightingale.

Everyone waits for the Roman legions in “The Pines of the Appian Way,” and they were not disappointed on this occasion. CSO principal timpanist Patrick Schleker and the double basses set the distant tread almost inaudibly, Philpotts sounded an exotic theme, and patrons in the left balcony of Music Hall – downwind of the extra CSO brasses stationed behind them – plugged their ears for the mighty ending. After several bows for the enthusiastic crowd, the CSO musicians finally refused to stand, awarding Frühbeck a well-deserved solo bow and their own unanimous applause.

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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