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Cincinnati Symphony Opener Features Three B's

Posted: Sep 26, 2015 - 2:25:45 PM in reviews_2015

Louis Langrée
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra opened its 2015-2016 season with a fantastic – no less – performance of Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie fantastique” at Music Hall. 

   It was the finest in this listener’s memory and testimony to the high level the orchestra has reached under music director Louis Langrée. 

   Also on the program was Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in an arresting performance by pianist Yefim Bronfman and completing the three B’s, Beethoven’s Overture to “Fidelio,” which opened the concert on a crisp and welcoming note.

   In all, it was not-to-miss event and if you did, you have one more chance to hear the entire program, tonight’s 8 p.m. repeat at Music Hall, and for the Berlioz, at 2 p.m. Sunday, also at Music Hall.

    Sunday’s program will also mark the debut of the CSO’s new “Stories in Concert” series, which will feature the “Symphonie fantastique” (the Beethoven and Bartok will not be heard on Sunday).

   Bronfman exuded good cheer in the Bartok Concerto. The first movement, which was filled with fistfuls of chords and rippling passages, came to a whip crack ending, followed by the soft, still opening of the Adagio. There was a real sense of drama in the second movement, which itself took off with lickety split passagework in the central Presto.

   The finale was jolly and folkloric with lots of timpani and bass drum. Again, there was much rough and tumble between piano and orchestra and it, too, came to a lightning quick end, drawing the audience to its feet at once.

   Bronfman obliged his listeners with Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in C Minor, a gentle doff of the hat after the exertions of the Bartok.

   Berlioz’ programmatic “Symphonie fantastique” (“Episode from the Life of an Artist”) reflects the composer’s unrequited love for Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson. And what an impression Langrée and the CSO made with the popular work. (Even the orchestration was generous, including four harps.)

   Color contrasts in the strings immediately captured this listener’s attention, as in the beautifully enunciated introduction where all of the “Reveries” and “Passions” Berlioz poured into it came across in Technicolor.

   In “A Ball,” the theme morphed into a spritely waltz, which soared through the orchestra at the end.  “Scene in the Country,” which featured Christopher Philpotts on English Horn, (echoed offstage by Lon Bussell on oboe) cast a magical spell over the hall, soon broken by the hair-raising “March to the Scaffold.”  Kudos here to the bassoons for their nimble runs, to timpanists Patrick Schleker and Richard Jensen and to clarinetists Jonathan Gunn and Benjamin Freimuth.

    The final “Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath” made one's skin crawl, ending in a blazing C Major chord that soared out into Music Hall on a wave of trombones.

   Acknowledging the applause, Langrée gestured to the score, fitting tribute to Berlioz’ truly fantastic symphony. (One hopes that Langrée and the CSO will record it.)

   Repeats are 8 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday (Berlioz only on Sunday).  Tickets, beginning at $10, at www.cincinnatisymphony.org