Leave it to
To Beethoven and pianist
Radu Lupu, for despite the bone-chilling cold (in the single digits in the
early morning), a large crowd turned out for Friday morning’s Cincinnati Symphony
concert at Music Hall (unofficial count topped 1,800).
There was even a nod to Valentine’s Day with Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” composed as a love letter to his wife Cosima.
Also marking the occasion was a fine young guest conductor, David Afkham, in an auspicious CSO debut.
Reversing the usual program order, the concert opened with the Beethoven Symphony (it will follow intermission on Saturday night’s repeat). Just 30, German-born Afkham, newly appointed principal conductor of the Spanish National Orchestra, led with utmost precision and assurance. The first movement took off with vigor following a soft, furtive introduction. The second movement, a song-like Adagio, was heart-warming, followed by a delightfully bumptious scherzo.
The final Allegro was pure fun and games, its many rhythmic and dynamic accents leaving no one to doubt that Beethoven had a keen sense of humor. String ensemble was extraordinary in the rapid passages of the finale, and compliments go to the principal winds for their fine solos throughout, including principal clarinetist Jonathan Gunn for his lovely, high-lying solos in the Adagio.
“Siegfried Idyll,” which opened the second half, gave listeners a small bite -- without voices -- of the notoriously long-winded Wagner. Again, Afkham gave it a precise, detailed reading, its many strands (drawn from themes in his operatic “Ring” cycle) delineated with a fine sense of color.
Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto shows the composer emerging into his middle period and a more romantic-classic style. Lupu, who presided at the keyboard with calm mastery, gave it just the right balance of both. Eloquent would best describe his playing. His touch varied distinctly: bright and pointed or velvety and smooth -- whatever the musical moment called for. There were magisterial statements contrasted with gentle cascades and a first movement cadenza of daunting exactitude. His introduction to the Largo second movement was breathtakingly soft-spoken.
The performance was further remarkable for its unity with the CSO. Afkham led an exquisite accompaniment, always perfectly in sync with Lupu. This was especially noticeable in the finale, where soloist and orchestra performed as one.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 8) at Music Hall. Tickets begin at $12. Call (513) 381-3300, or order line at www.cincinnatisymphony.org