Review: Soloist, Philharmonic excel in concert chock-full of demands

Soloist, Philharmonic excel in concert chock-full of demands

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |
November 4, 2011

An introduction and a return helped make Wednesday evening’s IU Philharmonic concert notable. A large crowd in the Musical Arts Center responded with prolonged and boisterous ovations.

Introduced was the soloist, young Christie Cho, admirably honoring Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. She had won the Jacobs School’s Beethoven Piano Competition and, as she proved, deservedly so.

Returning was Carl St. Clair, music director of the Pacific Symphony, who had visited before but stopped coming several years ago. As soon as he stepped upon the podium, this listener realized once again that here is a conductor who knows how to prepare an orchestra of youthful talents.

The Philharmonic was, indeed, marvelously prepared, not only to collaborate with pianist Cho in Beethoven’s “Emperor,” the Concerto No. 5, but then to shine in a powerfully articulated reading of another composition numbered 5, the technically and interpretively demanding Shostakovich Symphony No. 5.

Beethoven had nothing to do with the title “Emperor,” but this last of his piano concertos, and the only one he did not play in public because his hearing had deteriorated too severely, deserves the name. Its music is majestic, noble, ultimately triumphant in nature.

Soloist Cho revealed her assured command immediately, taking the thematic lead with force, just as the score calls for, and setting the pace and scale for the opening Allegro movement, chock-full of demands and, at 20 minutes, the longest Beethoven ever wrote. She never faltered and built from strength to strength, not only through the imperial and cadenza-enriched Allegro but into the meditative mood and poetic grace of the gorgeous Adagio and, finally, through the festive Rondo, another challenge for arms, hands and fingers.

Cho’s performance was such a pleasure to hear not only for how well she played but because it contained an appreciated freshness of approach that came from a rare combination: youth, innate talent, a beyond-her-years artistic maturity and musical intelligence.

The Shostakovich Fifth Symphony, written in 1937, served to mollify Russian officials who had criticized the composer for straying from accepted norms of musical expression set for artists in that soviet society. But for the composer, and he said so, it was meant as an expression of individuality, of a human being, artistic or otherwise, struggling to grow, to achieve. The music, initially anguished, moves ultimately to a heroic climax. There is graininess in its pages, and there is touching lyricism. The melancholic gives way to the sardonic and the elegiac to the grandiose. One senses defeat up front and victory at the end, but the latter perhaps ironic and more bitter than sweet.

In temperament and in technical difficulty, there is much for an orchestra to handle. Maestro St. Clair made sure that his musicians understood intent and mastered content. The resulting performance emerged as authentic, passionate, integrated, profuse and, in a word, stunning.


Copyright: 2011

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