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The Cincinnati Post

Wednesday August 27, 1997





PBS goes up close with CSO


By Mary Ellyn Hutton

Post music writer


      Tonight’s PBS telecast of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (9 p.m. on WCET) is about as up-close as you can get.

      Fingers, lips, eyes, even the percussionist’s thigh (where he taps the castanets) come in for scrutiny.

      You can gaze into the bell of Tony Chipburn’s trombone, watch Richard Hawley finger his clarinet and note the precarious interplay between the French hornists’ lips and their fingers on the valves.

      You will marvel at Gillian Bennet’s hands as she negotiates the harp’s six-and-a-half octaves.  And if you look closely, you can even see the imprints of the strings on a violinist’s fingers (hint: it’s in the encore).

     You will see something else that a symphony audience never sees, the face of the conductor.  A confirmed romantic, CSO music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos communicates with facial expressions as well as his baton.  He signals the players with his eyes, nods of his head and knowing smiles, shaping the sound simultaneously with expressive motions of his left hand.

     Hugely fun is the way he tosses out arch little cues in the Scherzo of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.

     Guest artist Alicia de Larrocha’s small, strong hands get lots of attention as they shape Ravel’s Piano Concerto, achieving a definitive performance with fellow Spaniard Lopez-Cobos. 

      Director Phillip Byrd has done more than reveal the anatomy of an orchestra here.  He has illustrated the music as well.  Carefully chosen views illumine the musical structure. A gorgeous example is the long dissolve from the trumpet to the English horn as it repeats the Largo theme in Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony for the last time.

      A regrettable omission from the show’s fine narrative segments is any reference to Music Hall, whose enhanced beauty is an outstanding feature of the production.  Vintage prints from CSO and Cincinnati history set the scene well, while John Morris Russell’s introductions to the music are helpful, concise and engaging.