Columbus Symphony: Guest conductor, piano soloist dazzle in concert

Two piano concertos, a concerto for chamber orchestra and an operaless overture made up the bill of fare on the Columbus Symphony’s “Concerto Festival” program last night in the Southern Theatre.

With the orchestra, guest conductor Gregory Vajda and piano soloist Lilya Zilberstein delivered dazzling performances in repertoire by (and inspired by) Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

It took Vajda and the orchestra several measures to settle into the right sustained feel in the slow introduction of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3. Beyond the introduction, more-effective dynamic contrasts joined extremely fine offstage trumpet solos, pristine technical passagework in the strings leading into the coda and a rousing conclusion.

Zilberstein’s flawless technique was the engine behind the sparkling perpetual-motion first movement of Bach’s keyboard Concerto in D, BWV 1054. A more-lyrical quality of sound in the lower strings might have benefited the brief introduction of the second movement Adagio.

Zilberstein tapped into that lyrical vein, though, without belaboring Bach’s poignant music with overwrought pathos. In the finale, Zilberstein, Vajda and the orchestra found the kind of joy that, with Bach, is never too far away.

In Stravinsky’s Concerto for Chamber Orchestra “Dumbarton Oaks,” a work highly indebted to Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, Vajda and the reduced-size orchestra found crispness and lightness in the first movement, which could actually have used a bit more bite.

The second movement exposed the winds and strings in fascinating interplay beautifully performed, and, in the third movement, sinewy duets for strings and winds rubbed shoulders with virtuosic playing by the strings.

From the brief introduction of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 through the work’s quixotic first movement, its lyrical second movement, its cadenzalike third movement and its manic finale, Zilberstein, principal trumpet player Thomas Battenberg and the symphony’s strings captured the concertos’ mood swings with technical brilliance and abundant flair.

Jennifer Hambrick, Columbus Dispatch
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