Canellakis, Cho make impressive Miami debuts with Cleveland Orchestra

By Lawrence Budmen

Karina Canellakis conducted the Cleveland Orchestra Friday night at the Arsht Center.

The concluding concert of the Cleveland Orchestra’s annual Miami residency at the Arsht Center on Friday night introduced two exceptional artists—conductor Karina Canellakis and pianist Seong-Jin Cho. Although the program lasted only an hour and forty minutes (including intermission), the musical rewards were manifest.

Winner of the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Seong-Jin Cho was soloist in the Polish master’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor. Actually, the first of Chopin’s two concertos, the score is played less often than the work designated as the first of the composer’s efforts in that genre.

It was easy to hear why Cho won the competition. From the first notes of his entrance, Cho displayed a real affinity for the pulse and larger arc of Chopin’s concerto. He brought out the aristocratic, stylized lyricism of the first movement’s secondary subject in totally idiomatic fashion. Cho’s technique was awesome, note-perfect with arpeggiated runs clearly articulated and exact.

Cho transformed the percussive instrument into a songful component in the Larghetto. Drawing crystalline, beautiful tone, he nearly made the principal melody into an operatic arioso. Taken at a brisk clip, the final Allegro vivace gave a hint of the pianist’s bravura side but within tasteful stylistic bounds. At the final chord, cheers rang out immediately from the pianist’s many fans who filled the hall.

Seong-Jin Cho performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Cleveland Orchestra Friday night. Photo: Christoph Kostlin/DG

Canellakis fully partnered Cho, phrasing as one with the soloist. A taut and well-controlled opening tutti spotlighted the distinctive and special sound of the Cleveland winds—clear, mellow and rounded. She highlighted distinct details of Chopin’s much-maligned orchestration. Exposed horn and trumpet lines were totally distinct and accurate.

Responding to the vociferous ovations, Cho played a fiery encore of Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat Major that captured the work’s dance-like spirit while taking a sensitive approach to the central section.

Chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic, Canellakis delivered a riveting performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances in the concert’s  second half.

She led with a clear beat, yet her gestures were never overstated. With the full Cleveland contingent on stage, Canellakis’ strong sense of rhythm at the outset of Rachmaninoff’s 1940 orchestral swan song immediately commanded attention. The haunting melody of the saxophone solo was shaped with restrained eloquence, the instrument integrated into the larger texture. Strings resounded in unified and lustrous fashion, with Canellakis avoiding overemphatic heaviness.

The heavy vibrato of concertmaster David Radzynski’s solo violin near the beginning of the work’s second movement felt steeped in Russian nostalgia, setting the stage for the sensuous but sad Tempo di valse. Canellakis captured that duality to perfection.

Crisp accents announced the opening of the final movement. Canellakis kept a tight rein on the musical discourse, never allowing the finale to become diffuse or episodic (as often happens in less scrupulous performances). The wild Russian dance came through with fierce intensity and the Dies irae theme had singular impact. Canellakis maintained fervent propulsion right down to the final diminuendo. She is a conductor one wants to hear more from, perhaps at the New World Symphony.

The Cleveland Orchestra repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Canellakis, Cho make impressive Miami debuts with Cleveland Orchestra”

  1. Posted Feb 03, 2024 at 3:05 pm by Idalberto vazquez

    Not happy about the duration of Seong performance. I have seen equal talented pianist( avery gagliano, kenny broberg) leave their skin on the piano for much less money. The other thing, Seong barely makes eye contact with the audience.

  2. Posted Mar 08, 2024 at 10:54 am by Maryana

    I would like to know what was the encore played on march 7 at the Arsht center by the Rotterdam symphony

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