Guerrero, Cleveland Orchestra close Miami season in top form with warm Beethoven and rousing Respighi

By Lawrence Budmen

Giancarlo Guerrero led the Cleveland Orchestra in music by Beethoven, Grieg and Respighi Friday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Alan Poizner

The Cleveland Orchestra is concluding its annual Miami residency with a program that bookended Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 and Respighi’s Pines of Rome with Grieg’s Piano Concerto as the centerpiece. Principal guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero led this oddly configured concert Friday night at the Arsht Center with Gabriela Montero as soloist in the Grieg concerto.

The Clevelanders were in top form throughout the evening. From the first bars of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony, the warm, expressive string playing engulfed the hall. Guerrero took a relaxed, approach to the symphony with moderate tempos and carefully nuanced dynamics.

Still, it took a while for the performance to settle in. Despite all the finely balanced playing, the first movement emerged rather cool and emotionally neutral. The “Scene by the Brook,” however, flowed expansively with lyricism and fluidity. Joshua Smith’s exquisite flute solos and Frank Rosenwein’s clear and sweet-toned oboe took pride of place. A robust reading of the country dance with incisive string attacks and spot-on horn calls led to a tempestuous display of power in the storm music. The final hymn of thanksgiving was eloquently shaped by Guerrero, concluding a satisfying traversal of Beethoven’s most gentle symphony.

Gabriela Montero

Montero studied at the University of Miami’s school of music in the 1990s and has come to international prominence during recent years, largely on the basis of her piano improvisations. The Venezuelan-born pianist offered a small-scale version of the Grieg showpiece, sometimes eccentric in tempo and pulse. Montero stretched the opening Allegro con molto at the expense of musical line and tended to pound out climaxes at top volume.

She was at her best in a softly Chopinesque, nocturnal reading of the Adagio. In the brilliant finale, Montero’s fast pace missed the charm of Grieg’s Norwegian dance rhythms and several runs and octaves were only approximated technically. The central episode seemed part of another performance, with Montero nicely dovetailing the flute’s lovely melody.

Clearly excited by sheer decibels, the audience awarded her a standing ovation but Grieg’s familiar showpiece was wanting overall in romantic sweep. Guerrero managed to follow Montero’s sometimes erratic rhythms, which was no small feat, and alertly detailed Grieg’s orchestral lines.

More than one Hollywood composer took a page from Respighi’s Pines of Rome, the original technicolor musical epic. Guerrero led the opening “Pines of the Villa Borghese” at a brisk clip, the Cleveland brass strong and precise. The catacombs section was unusually broad, the soft offstage trumpet beautifully balanced against the main stage forces. Guerrero astutely emphasized the impressionistic influences in “Pines of the Janiculum” and Mark Kosower brought fervor and depth of tone to the cello solo.

With six brass players stationed above the stage, the final “Pines of the Appian Way” was thrilling, the stately tempo gradually building tension before the explosive climax. Rather than playing Respighi’s orchestral showpiece in a bombastic manner, Guerrero emphasized the score’s felicitous instrumental colors and melodic richness.

The Cleveland Orchestra repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at the Arsht Center. 305-949-6722

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Sat Mar 24, 2012
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