Saginaw Symphony Orchestra
Leo Najar, conductor
Ralf Gothoni, pianist
April 1, 1995
Review published in|
The Saginaw News
April 3, 1995
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A defining and spell-binding performance by pianist Ralf Gothoni highlighted the final concert of the Saginaw Symphony Orchestra's 60th subscription season Saturday night at the Heritage Theater. Music Director Leo Najar put together an all-Beethoven concert to showcase the prize-winning soloist to his best advantage, and it was an evening the audience enjoyed immensely.
Before the regular program, the stage was taken over by members of the Saginaw Symphony Youth Orchestra, mainly high school aged advanced players from around the region. Najar could not resist the timely and obvious baseball humor suggested by the presence of the youngsters, referring to them as the "replacement players" for the Saginaw Symphony. The ensemble was led by Najar in an energetic and earnest performance of the "Farandole" from Bizet's L'Arlesienne, and they did themselves and the Saginaw Symphony very proud.
When the full symphony finally took the stage and tuned, the Beethoven concert began with his Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, a lively curtain raiser performed with great clarity of line and discipline.
Next came pianist Gothoni, winner of the 1994 Gilmore International Keyboard Prize, a highly-coveted and prestigious award given after an anonymous committee conducts a secret, world- wide search. His first entrance onto the stage was awkward and short lived, due to a rickety piano bench mistakenly brought out by the technical crew.
Once this stage managing goof was rectified, Gothoni settled down for a memorable performance of Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto that afterwards had the audience rightly buzzing. Some were heard to say that his performance redefined the piece for them, while others said they heard things in the work they had never heard before. Others were just spellbound by Gothoni's technical brilliance and musicality.
From the very beginning it was clear this would be a noble, elegant reading, full of bold strokes and periods of almost manic virtuosity. But the truly inspired aspect of Gothoni's performance came when he infused all of the technical brilliance with delicate, intricate passages full of pianistic color and lyrical beauty. It was not a technically perfect performance, nor was it one without its quirks. Gothoni was several times out ahead of Najar's tempi, giving an unsettled and disjointed sound.
Najar, Gothoni, and the orchestra melded marvelously into an ethereal reading of the second movement, Gothoni softly and delicately caressing each phrase. The audience was hushed, and there was a true sense of aural spaciousness. The bridge connecting the second and third movements was dreamy and magical, giving way to an insouciant finale.
After intermission, Najar returned to conduct the perennial favorite of audiences, Beethoven's 5th Symphony. His approach was graceful, elegant, and lyrically Romantic throughout, and the orchestra responded with disciplined and energetic playing.
In the transitional third movement some questionable tuning or articulations crept into the lower strings, and some ensemble cohesion was lost from there well into the finale. But from the sounding of the 4th movement's recapitulation through the blazing coda, Najar pulled things back together and ended the work, the concert, and the subscription season in fine style.
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