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May 12 Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: A near sellout

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: May 22, 2017 - 10:25:09 AM in reviews_2016

May 12 Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: A near sellout

A near-sellout audience greeted the final concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-2017 season Friday morning at Music Hall.

It was a program of debuts and premieres, including Prokofiev’s supremely (and deliberately) challenging Piano Concerto No. 2 and the Bacchus et Ariane Suite No, 2 by Albert Roussel.

On the podium was guest conductor Gilbert Varga in his CSO debut. Also new to the CSO audience was Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya.

It was a notable event in every way. Vinnitskaya’s performance of Prokofiev’s Concerto in G Minor was phenomenal, raising eyebrows and bringing cheering listeners to their feet.

Also on the program were Bartók’s Two Portraits, Opus 5, the Suite No. 2 from “Bacchus et Ariane” (1930) by Albert Roussel and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite.

Entitled “One Ideal” and “One Grotesque,” Bartók’s “Portraits” led off the program. Scored for full orchestra, the first had a nostalgic feel, while the second was brief and boisterous. Acting associate concertmaster Kathryn Woolley was featured in an eloquent solo in the former, projecting a satiny tone, bottom to top.

Originally condemned as extremely difficult -- both to listen to and to perform --the Prokofiev Concerto (1913) impresses today, both for its virtuosity and originality.

Following a solo buildup by Vinnitskaya in the opening movement, this bright, even perky, music led to an exciting repeat of the initial piano solo. Vinnitskaya was simply all over the keys in the Vivace, which included a big Russian climax, followed by a soft, tapered end.
One could only say “wow” of the fiercely difficult Allegro tempesto finale. She encored with a contrast: a brief, soft, excerpt from Shostakovich’s “Dances of the Dolls.”

CSO musicians distinguished themselves throughout Roussel’s Suite (led from memory by conductor Varga), including principal bassoonist William Winstead, principal violist Christian Colberg, violinist Woolley and the entire woodwind and brass sections.

Stravinsky’s popular “Firebird” Suite closed the concert on a high note. Dynamics were excellent throughout, from the spooky, low-string beginning to the exciting “Infernal Dance,” to the soaring, brass finale. Varga concluded it with a huge crescendo.