Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra / Eckart Preu (conductor). MayersonTheatre (SCPA) Cincinnati, OH 17.8.2019 (RDA)

During the dog days of August, the fully blossomed Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra brings to Cincinnati’s music lovers in Summermusik a plentiful supply of world class soloists, up and coming young artists, and the playing of a cohesive, disciplined, and fluent ensemble made up of some of the best musicians in the area.

Led by the never predictable, yet ever reliable Eckart Preu the CCO has carved a unique place in the Queen City’s musical landscape with off-the-beaten path programs that surprise and stimulate both brain and heart.

On Saturday, Pepe Romero won the hearts of the capacity audience with his patrician musicianship, at first tossing off, then intensely digging into, and finally bringing the house down with a composition of Celedonio Romero, patriarch of the famous family of guitarists, to which Pepe belongs. Arranged and orchestrated by Celedonio Romero, Federico Moreno Torroba’s Concierto de Málaga received a memorable reading by Pepe Romero, who would not be allowed to leave the stage until he exquisitely played two encores: a lovely Malagueña written by the elder Romero for Pepe’s mother, and Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

The Summermusik August 17th Viva España also featured selections from Ritmo Jondo, a 1953 ballet by the late Catalan-American composer Carlos Surinach, from which sections were magically played by members of the orchestra with the untranslatable Spanish noun-adjective duende.

Featured throughout the first half of the concert the brilliant flamenco dancer Arleen Hurtado seized the day, elegant in her supple upper torso moves, poetic in the use of her hands, a mantilla, a fan, virtuosic in her use of toe, heel, and ball footwork, and all the while adopting the complexly syncopated rhythmic patterns of the music. She all but set the theatre on fire, reminding us that this is music for dancing. And dance she did, embodying with her sinuous movement everything from the lustily comic, flirtatious but ultimately faithful wife in Falla’s The Three-cornered Hat, to the darker hues of much of the music in the program.

The percussion section of the CCO played up a storm, augmented by the compelling vocalist Gabriel Osuna, and also including Mike Culligan, Matt Hawkins, and timpanist Scott Lang, all four leading a musical onslaught of gypsy-inflected rhythms.

In much of the brooding, Moorish-inflected music the woodwinds shone with the soulful playing of Rebecca Tryon Andres on flute, John Kurokawa’s on clarinet, Christopher Philpotts on oboe, Mark Ostoich on English horn, and Hugh Michie on bassoon, all five virtuosi reminding us that, as the Spanish say, Africa begins in the Pyrenees.

Italian-born, Spanish resident for a good portion of his life as a court composer, Luigi Boccherini authored La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid, an homage to the nocturnal street sounds of his adopted hometown. In seven brief movements, Boccherini’s tone painting is assigned to the strings, which are called to depict church bells, marching soldiers, the singing of beggars, prayers, raucously singing drunks stumbling home, and the quiet that comes with the midnight curfew. String players Celeste Golden Boyer, Manami White, Heidi L. Yenney, Tom Guth, Nat Chaitkin, and Debbie Taylor brilliantly took over the piece, with Binford and Chaitkin gamely obeying Boccherini’s instructions to strum their instruments on their knees, as if they were guitars.

The Rumanian composer Ioan Dobrinescu arranged Isaac Albéniz’s piano masterpiece Leyenda de Asturias (Legend of Asturias) for orchestra, which the CCO played with mucho  gusto in the first half of the program, and then followed with selections from Manuel de Falla’s ballet El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat.) The rank and file of the orchestra shone both as members of an ensemble and as soloists, with the string and brass sections pulling off quantities of red hot playing in Falla’s 1919 masterpiece.

Later the orchestra took on Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance from his other well-known ballet Love, the Sorcerer. Here again Eckart Preu squeezed out every drop of Romani juice out of his ensemble, proving once more that he is a past master of just about all styles one can think of, Spanish music being but one.

Following Saturday night’s concert at the SCPA’s Mayerson Theatre, Maestro Romero will appear again on Sunday afternoon in the auditorium of the Cincinnati Art Museum for Spanish Dances, a recital of short pieces of music ranging from the Renaissance through the 20th century by Sanz, Arriaga, Tarrega, Granados, Albeniz and Boccherini, with Romero as its heart and soul, and the additional participation of Arleen Hurtado and percussionist Gabriel Osuna.

Can’t wait.

Rafael de Acha


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