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CSO players are highlight of Beethoven program

05.29.09
Orli Shaham
Columbus Dispatch

An all-Beethoven program can be a blessing or a curse, especially for a conductor.

Certainly a maestro can bask in the reflected glory of familiar masterpieces.

But regular concertgoers want that conductor to impart something of him or herself onto the music and make a performance an interpretation, not just another run-through.

At tonight's Columbus Symphony concert featuring three of Beethoven's greatest hits, guest conductor George Manahan - longtime music director of the New York City Opera - kept the orchestra in high gear throughout spirited renditions of the Leonore Overture No. 3, the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor and the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor.

Certainly one could not fault the energy and commitment he drew from the players.

Yet those expecting, or at least hoping, for something more were too often left wanting.

Yes, the thrilled audience was on its feet at the conclusion of the Fifth, but the thanks should go to Beethoven and the orchestra, for there are few finales from any musical period more exciting than the composer's monumental concluding allegro.

Pianist Orli Shaham made her local debut as featured soloist in the concerto, and it was impressive to be sure. Shaham absolutely nailed her opening lines, which always builds one's confidence in an artist.

And her playing was far more than "just" note-perfect. Every phrase was beautifully articulated and delineated with a lovely sense of line.

After a spectacular cadenza, she downshifted to create a musing, contemplative second movement, then took the lead in the rondo, plunging in and pulling everyone else along with her.

Beyond her own radiant music-making, her work in partnership with the players was also to be commended.

Manahan and the orchestra delivered a commendable reading of the famous Fifth, one marked with fine solo moments from nearly every section in the orchestra. The maestro took a tried and true path that led to few surprises.