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CSO's primed for Europe

03.28.08
Nikolai Lugansky
Cincinnati Enquirer

It's clear from the reaction of Music Hall's audience Thursday night that Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra are taking a program of showstoppers on their 12-city European tour that begins next week.

And from their playing, this orchestra is primed.

The Cincinnati Symphony gave a preview of one of the programs it will perform over the next three weeks on European stages, and twice the audience was on its feet cheering. The forces delivered a searing performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, which concluded the evening, and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with pianist Nikolai Lugansky, which can only be described as electrifying.

Lugansky, 36, who will share duties with violinist Janine Jansen as tour soloist, is a Russian pianist who already has an impressive discography and a fistful of major prizes. Small wonder he has a reputation for Rachmaninoff. This was one of the finest performances of the Third I've ever heard.

Tall and lanky, Lugansky appears more elegant than showy, yet he displayed plenty of fire and dash as he soared through technical feats without breaking a sweat. He projected a singing tone, and the work's dazzling figurations were clear and bright.

If one could pick the most sensational display, it was the first movement's cadenza, with its keyboard-spanning leaps and orchestral sonorities. The romantic melodies were beautifully felt and Lugansky summoned beautiful color, always with an ear for balance and musicality. He climbed the final summit unflinchingly and with thrilling virtuosity. He is clearly a major force on the piano circuit today.

This was an ideal collaboration, with the orchestra providing lush, refined color and Järvi sensitive to the pianist's every move.

Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 10 in 1953, inspired by Stalin's death. If it is a blistering portrait of Stalin, it is also partly autobiographical, for the composer inserted his own musical monogram into the music.

The first movement, a symphony in itself, was brooding, mournful and also quite beautiful. Besides its compelling momentum, the listener was swept along with a range of emotions, from shattering climaxes to the bleak piccolo theme that ends the movement.

The Allegro was a brutal march, clipped and powerful, that ended like a shot. The third movement made a striking contrast, with its fearless horn theme (Elizabeth Freimuth) and its haunting atmosphere.

Järvi 's conviction never wavered, and the orchestra played superbly. The finale, which erupted into mock-cheerfulness, always had tension simmering beneath.

The program opened with a brilliant and witty Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart.