September 1, 2015 Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. Eckart Preu, conductor. Joshua Roman, cello.

Tonight’s Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra concert brought its 2016 season to an ending that felt more like a rebirth.

Miguel del Águila’s Conga-Line in Hell is described by its composer as “…the visual image of an endless line of dead people dancing through the fires of hell…humorous, sarcastic, grotesque and terrifying…” Del Águila’s Conga morphs into a handful of driving Latin rhythms only to return to the carnival street dance that gives the composition its title. But ultimately his Conga overstays its welcome and ends up sounding like so much movie music.

In Daníel Bjarnason’s Bow to String a chaotic beginning makes melody struggle to be heard while the upper strings play with no vibrato on their highest registers or else impatiently tap on their instruments with their bows, and all the while the solo cello waits to play a melody as if assuring us that all will be well again. Bow to String is a brief piece that runs approximately five minutes. It was five minutes that felt like all eternity, even in spite of the gorgeous playing of Joshua Roman.

Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite in its chamber orchestra version for thirteen instruments brought to the evening a welcome mood of bucolic serenity and American charm. Even the lively movements of the suite, playfully whimsical in their rhythms were mined for their intrinsic lyricism in what may just be the finest performance of Copland’s composition this reviewer has ever heard. Here Eckart Preu drew sounds from the CCO musicians that have not always been there this season: utterly clear, perfectly pitched, flawlessly articulated – proof that a strong leadership will draw the very best from a very fine group of musicians.

Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 is widely regarded as one of the great concerti for this noblest of instruments: a three-movement composition played without pause, as if in a single-movement. Conceived as a calling card piece for none but the finest of cellists, it opens boldly with the soloist asserting himself on the very first measure and meeting the orchestra head on in an intensely orchestrated Allegro. The music quiets down for a Minuet in which the cello sings a melody redolent of the Classical era. The third and final movement introduces an additional melody that evidences Saint-Saëns inexhaustible inventiveness.

Joshua Roman played the concerto elegantly, boldly and flawlessly, conquering all its technical hurdles without any difficulty. The young cellist is a major artist well on his way to a great career.

To close, the orchestra played Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D Major, a work first performed during a visit by the young composer to the French capital. Orchestrated more fully than his other symphonies, this Paris symphony showcased the musicianship and musicality of the CSO musicians.

Eckart Preu is an immensely talented conductor, one capable of moving with ease from the cutting edge sounds of del Águila and Bjarnason to the Americana of Aaron Copland and then on to the Gallic Romanticism of Saint-Saëns and, finally, impress with an exquisite Mozart performance.

This concert concludes the 2016 season by reminding us of how fortunate it is for us to have not one but two great orchestras in our town. But, beyond that, of the two, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra has been reborn into a very fine ensemble, and that is more than cause for celebration.

What lies ahead now is the choice of Music Director for this worthy member organization of the music scene in Cincinnati, one who will lead it into the next chapter of its musical life.

After hearing tonight’s performance I know who my choice would be.

Rafael de Acha