Classics Rub Shoulders with Lighter Fare at Summermusik

United StatesUnited States Storace, Shostakovich, Chopin, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Gliere, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Borodin, Dvořák, Milhaud, Ibert: Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Kelly Kuo and Carina Kanellakis (conductors), venues in Cincinnati, Ohio. 15-30.8.2015 (RDA)

Storace: Gli Equivoci Overture
Shostakovich: Hamlet, Incidental Music for A Stage Production
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1
Stravinsky: Dumbarton Oaks Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Mozartiana
Gliere: Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra
Mozart: Prague Symphony
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1

The first half of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s two-week festival began on August 15 with a very fine opening concert led by Kelly Kuo. The evening featured the overture to Stephen Storace’s Gli Equivoci, an appositely naïve depiction of the storm at sea that opens Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, and selections from Shostakovich’s incidental music to Hamlet. The Storace was a delight, but the Shostakovich—which he cranked out for an ill-conceived production and later disavowed—was a disconcerting collection of loud gallops and marches that have little to do with Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy. Both Walton and Prokofiev—even Liszt—contributed better scores for their takes on the play. (Shostakovich later redeemed himself with a moody score for Grigori Kozintsev’s 1964 film.) Notwithstanding the Shostakovich, the first half was energetically played by the orchestra and interspersed with semi-staged readings of the play. Three members of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre played multiple roles, focusing on the major speeches.

The second half belonged to the young pianist Eric Lu, who brought technique, musicality and interpretive maturity well beyond his years to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Never lapsing into mannerisms, Lu knew just how long to delay the resolution of a cadence or how to suspend a phrase in mid-air, bringing tremendous gravity. The audience rewarded him, Kuo, and the orchestra with a well-earned ovation.

Later in the weekend, Lu returned for an afternoon of Chopin at CCM’s Werner Recital Hall, and violist Heidi Yenney imaginatively assembled an evening “Chamber Crawl.” (Prior commitments prevented me from attending Sunday’s events and the following Thursday’s Pub Crawl at the Northside Tavern, where audiences were treated to string quartets from composers as diverse as Mozart, Borodin, and Jimi Hendrix.)

The following weekend, the CCO played up a storm in a Russian-themed concert at the SCPA, with Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana, and selections from John Barry’s score to From Russia, with Love. First-class work from concertmistress Amy Kiradjieff, principal flute Rebecca Tryon Andres, percussionist Scott K. Lang, and principal clarinet John Kurokawa demonstrated that Cincinnati has an ever-growing pool of excellent musicians. Kuo stylishly conducted the evening, and Sarah Coburn, sounding better than ever, sang Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Gliere’s rarely-heard Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra, a lush bit of post-Romanticism with the vocalist inhabiting realms above a high C. Despite her very advanced pregnancy, Coburn sang with aplomb and vocal fireworks.

On Sunday August 23, Coburn was back at the Mercantile Library for an afternoon of exquisitely done Russian songs by Rachmaninoff, accompanied by Kuo (this time at the piano), and a reprise of the Rachmaninoff Vocalise, but with a string quartet. The program was lovingly curated by violinist Manami White, who provided insightful commentary and joined Kiradjieff, Yenney, and cellist Patrick Binford in Borodin’s second string quartet, notable for its tune later used as “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” in Kismet. To offset the Russian romanticism, they offered the anguished angularities and dissonances of a compelling early piano quintet by Shostakovich, already reflecting his struggles with his inner demons and with his Soviet overseers.

In the interim, Summermusik pressed on with “Chamber Crawls” at the Cabaret@Below Zero and the Downtowne Listening Room, where newbies and seasoned concertgoers were seated side by side at tables for a happy mix of jazz and classical by CCO members in small ensembles. This series continued at the Scene Ultra Lounge with traditional and contemporary Chinese and Mongolian music by bassist DaXun Zhang, interspersed with two Dvořák string quartets—again with help from the CCO.

In the CCO’s August 30 concert, the ensemble sounded better than ever under guest conductor Karina Canellakis. Mozart’s Prague Symphony offered tight playing throughout the three movements (not the usual four), including a final Allegro taken as fast as ever I heard, maintaining both brio and precision.

A group called the Faux Frenchmen played four world premieres: Edna’s Knot by Don Aren, Daisey Allen’s Waltz by George Cunningham, Paul Patterson’s Chromatic Drag, and Brian Lovely’s Trading Knick Knacks for Macaws, plus an unnamed encore. These four terrific musicians—two guitars, violin and bass—had the CCO backing them all the way in selections ranging from blues to bossa nova, from European-flavored jazz to country. As in the Saturday concert the week before, the CCO inventively mixed lighter works with those by major composers, a programming conceit intended to cultivate a newer, younger demographic, while continuing to maintain the group’s traditional audience.

In the second half came Beethoven’s First Symphony, written by the thirty-year old composer as his calling card in the early 19th century, and one can sense Haydn looming in the background. Canellakis conducted elegantly, not missing a single detail, especially in the fast and joyful final Allegro.

The second week ended with Unwind with Woodwinds, a laid-back, daytime concert and wine tasting at the Unwind Wine Bar in Hyde Park. Three CCO woodwind players—Lorraine Dorsey (oboe), John Kurokawa (clarinet), and Hugh Michie (bassoon)—were joined by Randy Gardner on horn, all led by flutist Rebecca Andres. Beethoven and Mozart divertimenti joined two delightful works by Jacques Ibert and Darius Milhaud and, as an encore, a playful arrangement of the Brazilian samba “Tico Tico.” This was the kind of musical tete-a-tete that becomes a delightful visit with five genial friends who just happen to be terrific musicians.

Rafael de Acha

Leave a Comment