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Tchaikovsky at Music Hall

A concert for the ages.

Dear and gentle reader.  Without revealing my exact age I can tell you that during my high school years I remember hearing the Cincinnati Symphony under the direction of Max Rudolph, one of the great German conductors of the 50’s and 60’s.  I heard some of the greatest pianists of that era such as Artur Rubenstein (great at everything romantic), Rudolph Serkin (spiritual soul mate of Beethoven), and Vladimir Horowitz (a technical reincarnation of Liszt and an incredible source of musical imagination).  I also remember concerts under the direction of Thomas Schippers who was an elegant tyrant on the podium but conducted with style and panache.  And to be sure there were several music directors in between who were barely adequate.  

Of course more recently Pavo Jarve brought the CSO back to technical prowess with chilling accuracy and dynamic flash while developing a cult following in the process.  But it remained for our new maestro Louis Langree to fuse technical precision with heart felt warmth and emotion so that our beloved orchestra could reach the highest level of musicianship within memory.

Of all the concerts I have heard at Music Hall over the last five decades the program this past week end with Tchaikovsky’s monumental First Piano Concerto in B flat Minor and his Fifth Symphony in E minor ranks in the top four or five concerts by the CSO of all time.  Director Langree brought such a high level of fervor, richness and soulful emotion to his reading of the Fifth Symphony and soloist Alexander Gavrylyuk was close to pianistic perfection in the piano concerto.

Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is usually either a big hit or a colossal miss; there is no in between performance of this finger buster.  Ukranian pianist Gavrylyuk infused more poetry and soaring melodic lines into this monster composition than I have ever heard before.  Every technical difficulty from cascading octaves to gigantic chords and scales and arpeggios was met with assurance and ease.  The orchestral accompaniment was absolutely beyond reproach.

The Fifth Symphony is my personal favorite of the famed trio of Tchaikovsky’s fourth, fifth and sixth.  From the opening dirge like march in minor to the triumphant finale in which the same opening theme returns but is now proclaimed in major, the full resources of the orchestra and conductor are taxed to the max.  Langree adopted broad, unhurried tempi which allowed the full range of emotions in this piece to be heard.  Conducting from memory without a score, Langree squeezed every once of sentiment and passion from this grand work.  This was a night to remember, a concert for the ages.