Violinist Itzhak Perlman, who performed Max Bruch’s romantic Violin Concerto, is one of the icons of classical music. His appearance onstage and the numerous standing ovations that followed bore eloquent testimony to that.
Add well-loved favorites such as Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (“New World”) and “The Hebrides” (“Fingal’s Cave”) Overture by Mendelssohn, and you are guaranteed a full house (the Taft Theater holds 2,500 People).
Perlman, disabled by polio at age four, is accustomed to making his way to the stage using crutches and an electric scooter. He sat on a platform next to Langrée and proceeded to charm the audience with Bruch’s popular work (it was Perlman’s 11th appearance with the CSO).
It took him a time to warm up, but he built to a big romantic Adagio, including a breathtaking climb into the stratosphere at the end, then back to a gentle, tapered end. There was lots of Hungarian zest in the finale, though his bow control was a bit heavy-handed. No matter, Perlman is one of Cincinnati’s favorites and his fans made it known.
Dvořák’s symphony was dedicated to departing CSO president Trey Devey, who is leaving to head the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan (his last day was Wednesday). Devey’s leadership since 2009 has been marked by stabilization of the budget and the appointment of both Langrée and CSO Pops conductor John Morris Russell. Devey will be sorely missed.
The opening movement of the Dvořák, a powerful statement, featured silken textures by the violins and a commanding overall sound. Christopher Philpotts delivered the Largo’s iconic English horn theme (derived from an African American spiritual) with heart-stopping beauty over muted strings. Nothing was overdone here. Even the climaxes were oh so gentle at all the right times. The music faded into a major chord before resuming the movement’s “big theme.” The lovely muted string quartet at the end was followed by the ethereal sound of concertmaster Timothy Lees and principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn.
The Molto Vivace third movement (inspired by Native American music) was rousing with its vigorous staccato motif and affecting triple meter variation, while the Allegro finale featured majestic brass and a lovely clarinet solo. Each section melted into the next naturally and inevitability. Patrick Schleker’s timpani came through with majesty capped by a big, organ-like ending capped by a brass fadeout.
The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s atmospheric “Hebrides” Overture. Balances and inflection were very distinct with a smooth contrast between legato and staccato. It worked up to a head of steam before drifting off at the end.