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Russian Voices Fall Flat

By Patrick Clark
On November 30, 2011

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) performed a

series of concerts over the past two weekends entitled Russian Festival. The idea was to perform great works by Russian composers. I attended the latter of the two called Russian Voices. The two works performed at this concert

were Tchaikovsky's first symphony, "Winter Daydreams" and Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky," conducted by Pinchas Steinberg with soloist Sasha Cooke. The CSO is a great force when it comes to producing a quality sound and has a great reputation for performing with precision and accurately representing that which the composer intended. However, this past weekend I did not feel as though the pieces performed were done justice. There is an expectation when it comes to performing great works of Russian composers. Specifically, Tchaikovsky's pieces

are expected to have some force and bombastic nature to them. Now, being the composer's first symphony, the expectations are somewhat less because the composer

was still growing into his own. Yet, there was still a stifling

feeling while listening to this work. I do blame this on the orchestra rather the guest conductor for the evening Pinchas Steinberg. I felt as though throughout the entirety

of the piece the orchestra was on a short leash. Steinberg would not allow the players to exhibit the true essence of Tchaikovsky. "Alexander Nevsky" is a suite that was re-orchestrated for a concert setting from a movie with

the same name produced in the 1930's. "There has been a wonderful suite extracted from [the movie]... and it is still absolutely wonderful and epic music," Paul Frankenfeld, associate principle violist, said in the pre-concert video.

This piece requires the addition of a chorus, whose role was filled by the May Festival Chorus under the direction of Robert Porco. By all accounts, this piece was more enjoyable than the symphony and one could feel the sense of nationalism from the piece. However, I still felt as though the orchestra and chorus were being held back. That being said, the diction and the tone quality of the chorus was

admirable. The CSO will perform next on Dec. 2 and 3 under the baton of Maestro Andrew Grams at Music Hall. They will be playing Rimsky – Korsakov's "The Snow Maiden," Dvořák's "Violin Concerto" with soloist Ray Chen

and Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake Suite."

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