CSO, soloists captivate in Brahms

Alisa Weilerstein
Cincinnati Enquirer

By Janelle Gelfand

Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello is one of the great masterpieces of the concerto repertoire. So it was rewarding to hear it so brilliantly played by the superb, 27-year-old cellist Alisa Weilerstein and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s own concertmaster, Timothy Lees on Friday in Music Hall.

(Just weeks ago, Lees wowed with another solo performance with the orchestra in “Scheherazade.”)

Guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth was on the podium with an engaging program, which included the CSO premieres of two works written about 200 years apart: John Pickard’s “The Flight of Icarus” and Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 in C Major.

Weilerstein made her concerto debut at age 13 with the Cleveland Orchestra, and her Ohio ties include studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she is currently artist-in-residence. She is a charismatic talent with a big, bold sound, and her opening cadenza in the Brahms was intense and rapturous.

As a duo, she and Lees were not quite a match, and the cellist overpowered at first.

She played with fire, and a big, romantic style that seemed a throwback to another era; he with elegance and sweetness of tone. Nevertheless, their balance leveled out as they played, and they communicated together as if playing chamber music.

The slow movement, with its noble theme, was warm and flowing, and the oneness of spirit shared by the soloists was memorable. They both tossed off the virtuosities of the finale.

Part of the success had to do with the collaboration by the orchestra. Wigglesworth made an excellent partner, leading with weight and warmth, and knowing exactly when to pull back to allow the soloists to shine.

A native of Sussex, England, Wigglesworth became associate conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1992, and has held posts with the Swedish Radio Symphony and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

He opened with Pickard’s “Flight of Icarus,” a 20-minute piece based on the Greek myth. Brightly orchestrated, the work unfolded like a mini-tone poem, with bold, dramatic gestures in the colorful percussion, staccato fanfares in the brass, and exciting orchestral textures. The conductor led authoritatively through the work’s immense buildups, and kept the momentum going, even during long, soaring themes in the strings evoking “flight.”

The composer, a native of Burnley, Lancashire, England, was present to take a bow.

Wigglesworth concluded the program with Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 – written between his more familiar Paris and London symphonies. It’s a delightful symphony, and it was a showcase for several of the orchestra’s principal players.

Leading without a score, the conductor projected energy and musicality, and the musicians responded with playing that was precise as well as warmly phrased. The finale was scintillating, and offered a “surprise” for the audience.