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Cellist Eric Kim Does Honor to Rostropovich

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Nov 10, 2007 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2007

Cincinnati Symphony principal cellist Eric Kim

Talk about virtuoso.
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Eric Kim did honor to
the greatest cellist of the 20th century (and probably any century)
Friday night at Music Hall.
Kim was featured soloist in Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1,
dedicated, as was the entire CSO concert, to the memory of Mstislav
Rostropovich who died last spring (the work was written for and
premiered by him in 1959).
Rostropovich would have been proud to hear the work performed with such
depth of insight and mastery. In fact, like Beethoven last weekend (his
"Eroica" Symphony), Kim and Shostakovich stole the show.
The concert, led by CSO music director Paavo Järvi, was the second of
the CSO's ongoing Stravinsky Festival, a focus on some of the
composer's less often heard works that continues with his "L'histoire
du soldat," to be performed by the CSO chamber Players Nov. 16 at
Memorial Hall.
The Stravinsky fare Friday was his 1945 Symphony in Three Movements, a
deceptively titled work that has the punch of his popular ballets like
"The Rite of Spring." (Those who left at intermission expecting
something dry or cerebral missed a listening experience of the first
Kim glorified Shostakovich's mid-century work in every way. He met its
technical demands with ease - never have double stops in thumb position
sounded so easy. And the sound Kim drew from his cello! Beautiful is
inadequate to describe it.
The first movement is dominated by a motoric, four-note motif,
announced by the cello, similar to the composer's "motto" theme (a
spelling of his initials in musical notation). It was high-pitched
excitement from the start, including some splendid solos by principal
hornist Elizabeth Freimuth and a perfectly timed ending delivered like
a rifle shot by principal timpanist Patrick Schleker.
The second movement unfolded against a plaintive fabric of violas.
There were some uncanny woodwind sonorities and ethereal dialogues with
Kim, who capped a passage of fingered harmonics with muffled bow
strokes against a soft timpani roll.
The third movement cadenza was astonishing - not just a showpiece, but
a deep musical immersion that brought a hush to the hall.
Shostakovich's satiric bite returned in the finale (which supposedly
quotes Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's favorite song), along with the
motto theme and some great chattering and cackling by the winds. The
applause and cheers for Kim and the CSO were long and well deserved.
The Symphony in Three Movements was written under the "influence" of
world events, Stravinsky wrote, specifically World War II and brutality
he witnessed in pre-war Nazi Germany. Whatever the inspiration, it has
all the "Rite" stuff, from propulsive rhythms and swatches of melody
reminiscent of the maidens' "Spring Ronds" to the whooping horns of the
"Sacrificial Dance" in "Rite of Spring."
Pianist Michael Chertock was a standout in the outer movements, where
the piano plays an important role, as was principal harpist Gillian
Benet Sella in the more lyrical Andante, whose origin as music
Stravinsky wrote for a vision of the Virgin Mary in the 1940s film
"Song of Bernadette" resonated once or twice.
The final movement, which the composer likened to a "plot" about the
defeat of the Nazis by the Allies, began with march-like optimism
devolving into a delightful, bumbling "fugue" by piano, trombone and
harp. The Yankees came to the rescue in racing spiccato figures in the
strings and an all-stops pulled assault ending with a ringing, jazzy
Järvi opened with Haydn's Symphony No. 98, chosen, perhaps, because,
like much of Stravinsky, it has a surprise in it. Audience members may
have wondered what Chertock was doing sitting at the harpsichord until
a few bars before the end, where he suddenly added some rushing figures
on the keyboard.
Repeat is 8 tonight at Music Hall