Festival Music

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Usher Hall

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Hazel Rowland

four stars

IT IS not at all surprising that an American symphony orchestra would show an affinity with Bernstein and Copland – two of its country’s great 20th-century composers. With an extensive brass and percussion section, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra relished the brash loudness that these composers ask for, but that is not to suggest their performance was crudely one-dimensional. Bernstein’s arrangement of his film score for On the Waterfront into a symphonic suite provided the orchestra’s different sections an opportunity to show-off. Elizabeth Freimith expertly performed the opening, haunting horn solo, while menacing timpani and scurrying strings created considerable tension in the following fast section. Even without having seen the film, you could imagine the drama. The central lyrical section revealed another side to the orchestra, where conductor Louis Langree drew utter sweetness from the strings. The arrival of the fantastic brass then made for a climatic and monumental close.

This drama lingered into Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, where the orchestra created a wonderful, expansive sound. They were joined by actor Charles Dance with the excerpts from Lincoln’s speeches and writings that Copland inserts into the piece. Although he made a striking entrance, Dance's delivery seemed a little rushed, meaning the words lost some of their profundity

With Brahms’s First Symphony No. 1, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra revealed the subtlety they are capable of. Under Langrée, small swells in volume were superbly controlled, and during quiet sections, the conductor maintained the underlying energy. He also had the shrewdness to avoid dragging the first movement’s slow introduction – a tempting method of achieving seriousness – which still achieving a magnificent sense of foreboding. The large string section was a treat to listen to, filling the Usher Hall’s expansive space with a beautiful sound for Brahms’s soaring melodies.