Dvorak and Brahms, Yo-Yo Ma and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, led by music director Louis Langreé, made for a splendid concert Friday night (Oct. 28) at the Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati.
Ma, a favorite in Cincinnati, was warm and engaging in the Dvorak Cello Concerto, both on the cello and in remarks to the audience, which he addressed with a friendly “welcome” before taking his seat and sounding an energetic entrance to the Concerto, matching that of Langrée and the orchestra.
Langrée and the CSO matched him in soft, silken passages as well, accompanied by lovely woodwind solos. Overall, the Allegro first movement was magisterial in effect, with grand sound and expression by Ma.
The second movement (Adagio ma non troppo) was a beauty as Ma led the orchestra in gesture and refinement. He brought out lines in the music beautifully amid moments of technical brilliance. Langrée led an impeccable accompaniment throughout.
Ma led with dash and joy in the finale, playing with precise articulation, matched by perfect ensemble with the orchestra. There was a lovely duet near the end with Ma and temporary concertmaster David Coucheron (concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony, sitting in for ailing concertmaster Timothy Lees). Coucheron gave an ethereal ending to the work.
Ma shared the enthusiastic applause with the CSO, both individually and as a whole, then treated his listeners to an encore, “Song of the Birds,” a Catalan song (a favorite of Pablo Casals) that was exquisite to its soft-breathed ending high on the A string.
After intermission, Langrée led a glowing performance of Brahms’ Second Symphony. String sound was extra-warm, with outstanding playing by the horns and an affecting swell by the orchestra to end the opening Allegro. The second movement (Adagio ma non troppo) began gently rising to a dramatic forte. The perky, rocking Allegretto was succeeded by a triumphant Allegro finale. Balances were perfect, with sudden fortes sounded on a dime. The trumpets announced the final bars clearly and brilliantly.
In short, the CSO has never sounded better.