Arts » Classical Music

Review: ISO's Urbański plays three Bs

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Violinist Daniel Hope - FELIX BROEDE
  • Felix Broede
  • Violinist Daniel Hope

It's been since Oct. 20 that Kyzysztof Urbański has appeared on the ISO podium, his one and only weekend heretofore this season. Such matters as scaling back the orchestra's operations caused by a deficit of long-term funding, in-turn producing a contract dispute and ultimately a management lockout of the players since the season was supposed to begin in September, created a maelstrom reaching to the far corners of the city: ill will on both sides, nasty, accusatory letters to the symphony management, a surfeit of press releases.

But that's all over now, and we can shout. The $5 million needed to extend the contract was well exceeded by Feb. 3 -- its due date -- plus we've engaged a new CEO, Gary Ginstling, from the Cleveland Orchestra, bringing with him the best of credentials. And so, Urbański returned on Thursday with every right to feel good about his players and his organization. Now if we can just get the audience turnout (on Friday) back up to Urbański's usual, we'll be all set.

Guest violinist, South African Daniel Hope, provided the solo part in Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26 (1868). Bruch's three movements--a dramatically impassioned first, a tuneful Adagio needing a voice to sing it and a joyous Finale--are regrettably the German composer's only three which assaulted and conquered the standard repertoire. Everybody plays the concerto.

But some play it better than Hope. Though his technical acumen is all anybody could wish for, Hope's singing tones were often too wide, giving the impression of an uncertain pitch, with some slight intonation misfires on certain leaps. His dynamic shading was, however, a perfect match with Urbański's, the dovetailing carrying through the three movements. Our music director dominated in this work.

The program began with Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, the second, and most tautly dramatic of his four overtures to his only opera Fidelio. Urbański has become locally known for getting the widest dynamic range possible from his players; with the Leonore, he may have gilded the lily. The soft passages in the introduction were hardly more than whispered. It was what our conductor wanted, and he got them all down to ppp perfectly. But when the full forces were brought to bear, his speed was also enhanced. When the material got soft again, leading to those two off-stage trumpet calls, the overture's momentum -- its forward drive -- was lost. I would have preferred his wide dynamics with a more propulsively constant tempo throughout.

Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 fared much better with Urbański's wide range of soft and loud. Sometimes with overwrought harmonies outflanking his melodic inspiration, Brahms 1 is well crafted, as are his remaining three, all repertoire standards. Here the wide dynamics worked perfectly, all leading seamlessly to his "pseudo" Ode-to-Joy theme in the fourth movement (resembling Beethoven's in his Ninth). Excellent solo and ensemble work prevailed.

In his pre-concert Words on Music session, host Geoff Lapin showed Daniel Hope to be as good an interviewee as Lapin is an interviewer. Lapin reminded us that he had interviewed our newly arriving CEO a year ago last spring before an appearance of the Cleveland Orchestra at the Carmel Palladium, when Ginstling was the Cleveland's general manager. I was there; Ginstling was an altogether excellent interviewee. Feb. 14-16; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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