Franz Joseph Haydn wrote enough symphonies –about 108 survive – to earn him the title of Father of the Symphony. Reputedly a favorite of Marie Antoinette, his Symphony No. 85 in Bb Major – French only by name and one of Haydn’s six Paris symphonies – is a lively, mature work never lacking in harmonic inventiveness and rhythmic bounce, offering the CCO superb string section plenty of opportunities to shine and lots of hard work which they made sound all too easy.
Ravel, a firm believer in perspiration vs. inspiration commented on his Piano Concerto in G Major that “writing music is seventy-five percent an intellectual activity…” The composer sets the first movement in motion with the crack of a whip, marking it allegramente to indicate to both soloist and conductor that things should be kept buoyant and fleet. The haunting second movement is a slow waltz in which Ravel’s inspiration matters more than his mental acuity. It allows the piano to hold center stage for a good three minutes before gradually letting the woodwinds enter, one at a time. It is as memorable as anything in Maurice Ravel’s entire oeuvre.
Korean-American pianist Joyce Yang, a past silver medalist of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition is a formidable technician capable of taking the concerto’s opening and closing movements at breakneck speed though not at the expense of clarity or accuracy. In the middle movement she played rapturously, with a singing tone just right for the momentarily languorous nature of the composition. In the mind-boggling third movement she played with Olympian power and brilliance. Deservedly Ms. Yang brought the audience to its feet.
All of the works in the program provided plenty of opportunities for the woodwinds to share the spotlight. Rebecca Tryon and Susan Magg, flutes, John Kurokawa and Miriam Culley, clarinets, Christopher Philpotts and Lorraine Dorsey, oboes, Hugh Michie and Amy Pollard, bassoons, and Elizabeth Porter and Josh Michal, French horns, all ten of them one third of the orchestra personnel did some truly magnificent playing.
In 1942 Aaron Copland assembled Music for Movies, a concert suite of works previously composed for several films. New England Countryside from The City is a serenely evocative scene for muted solo trumpet – here impeccably played by Ashley Hall -accompanied by woodwinds. Barley Wagons from Of Mice and Men is anchored in the open chords that abound in so much of the composer’s work. Sunday Traffic whimsically depicts the denizens of a large American city heading for an out-of-town weekend by any means of transportation available. Grovers Corner takes one to Thornton Wilder’s hilltop graveyard from the second act of Our Town. Threshing Machines, also from Of Mice and Men kicks things into high gear with an incessant ostinato in the lower strings pitted against short, energetic phrases from the brass and woodwinds, a big ending delivered with panache by the CCO musicians. Five young female dancers from the College Conservatory of Music moved with nobility to Copland’s music and Andre Merighian’s majestic choreography, an apt homage to Martha Graham’s early choreographic compositions.
Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite was born as a little collection of ditties inspired by children’s fairy tales. By the time Ravel had revised it, Ma mère l’Oye became a miniature suite for the sort of chamber orchestra in which each instrumentalist is a soloist in his or her own right: a work tailor-made for the CCO. The opening Prelude sets the scene for several tableaux: storybook visions by the 17th century French fabulist Charles Perrault that include Pavane for a Sleeping Beauty, Amusements for Beauty and the Beast, Little Thumb, Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas and The Garden of the Fairies. The work is harmonically luscious, rich in melody, imaginative in orchestration, and wondrously evocative of the enchantment and innocence of childhood.
Daniel Meyer conducted with elegance and precision. The young maestro pays unflagging attention to details that might escape the listener when these works are played by larger ensembles. Throughout the entire evening – from the classical sobriety of the Haydn to the Gallic élan of the Ravel to the all-American bravado of the Copland dance suite- Meyer elicited committed response from the players and earned generous applause from the capacity audience. The CCO has conceived its 2016 season as a way of testing the Cincinnati musical waters with four different conductors in a search for a permanent music director. Based on this impressive opening concert, the management and board of the CCO will have the selection work cut out for them.
It was an altogether inspired, impassioned opening performance by the CCO, one that without words and only music said much about the estimable Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s indispensability during and beyond the music-less dog days of summer in the Queen City
Rafael de Acha