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Standard Works Get a Cincinnati Whirl


Touring orchestras often play it safe with repertory, but the Cincinnati Symphony's two programs over the weekend at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts had seat belts and life jackets on.

Conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos, in his second decade as Cincinnati's music director, the orchestra offered Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, Dvorak's "New World" Symphony and "Carnival" Overture, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and music by Ravel, the most modern composer on the two programs.

Of course, one doesn't mind hearing familiar fare if the interpretations are somehow distinctive. But the interpretations were standard-issue too, right down the middle of the road. The concerts seemed like an exercise in proving that this orchestra is as good as any other.

This orchestra is better than that. One-hundred-and-two years old, boasting such past music directors as Stokowski, Ysaye and Reiner, among the most recorded ensembles in the country (it doubles as the Cincinnati Pops), the orchestra was a joy to hear: confident, precise and energetic. It seemed like a missed opportunity not to have these players spread their wings and challenge our ears.

The Dvorak and Beethoven symphonies emerged swift and gutsy. Though Lopez-Cobos didn't always attend to instrumental detail, his generosity to the brass and percussion, crisp phrasing and light beat kept things exciting and brilliant.

A sometimes elegant, sometimes pat reading of Ravel's "Rhapsodie Espagnole" was followed by his G-major Piano Concerto, with Alicia de Larrocha as soloist. To hear her clear, warmly limned and unhurried performance was to realize how much glitz and frill is normally applied to the work. Her rhythm was beautifully centered too, weighty yet sprung. She supplied the high point to the concerts.

Concertmaster Alexander Kerr, 26, soon to depart for the same position with the Royal Concertgebouw, gave a rock-solid but unimaginative account of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. In encore Saturday, the orchestra offered a Spanish dance from Falla's "La Vida Breve."

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