Big crowds for concerts by Ono Brothers, Ariel Quartet, pianist Roman Rabinovich

UC President Santa Ono with his brother, pianist virtuoso Momoro Ono
UC President Santa Ono with his brother, piano virtuoso Momoro Ono

I have enjoyed some excellent concerts this month in smaller venues outside of Music Hall, and each was unique and impressive. On Nov. 1, I was in a large audience at the Xavier Piano Series in Gallagher Theater for the series debut of pianist Momoro Ono. And incidentally, part of the program included his brother, cellist and University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono. It was definitely a family affair — the Ono brothers’ parents were also in attendance.

President Ono, who has taken up the cello again seriously for the first time since he was a teen, performed Max Bruch’s lovely “Kol Nidre” and John Williams’ Theme from Schindler’s List. It was truly from the heart. He communicated the deep feeling he had for the music, and his brother was a sensitive collaborator. What a treat to hear his beautifully phrased encore — The Swan — from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals.

Momoro Ono, who teaches at Creighton University, is a pianist of the highest caliber, as he demonstrated in Schubert’s demanding Sonata in B-flat Major. He also possesses considerable flair and showmanship. He opened with his own piece “For Santa,” composed for his brother’s Investiture as UC President, a keyboard-spanning display piece. His program included Stravinsky’s treacherous “Trois Movements de Pétrouchka,” executed with both brilliance and nuance. And he delighted the crowd with his encores, a flamboyant arrangement of Billy Joel’s Piano Man and a sensational rendition of de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance.

Polina Bespalko has put together a superb season, which includes guitar and jazz. I don’t want to miss 12-year-old prodigy Gavin George on Jan. 17.

image imageOn Nov. 3, pianist Roman Rabinovich made an auspicious debut on the Matinee Musicale Club series, now celebrating its 103rd anniversary season. I enjoyed his thoughtful remarks about the music before his ambitious program, which was held in the newish Anderson Performing Arts Center.

He opened with Haydn’s Sonata in E Minor. Every phrase spoke eloquently, and I admired his touch, pristine articulation and control of sonority. Best of all, the music breathed; nothing was rushed. Later, he played Haydn’s Sonata in B-flat Major with an easy brilliance.

It’s interesting to see how this generation of pianists is now using their iPad and Bluetooth (for turning pages ) these days.  Rabinovich placed his iPad inconspicuously on the music stand for Webern’s Variations, Op. 27. He made an engaging case for this under-appreciated composer, particularly in the pointillistic Scherzo.

What a revelation, then, it was to hear the noble themes of Beethoven’s A Major Sonata, Op. 101 after the spare Webern. Rabinovich’s interpretation was mesmerizing, not only for the beauty of sound he achieved, but also for the way he perfectly balanced Beethoven’s diabolical outbursts with moments of heavenly inspiration.

Schumann’s “Faschingsswank au Wien” was a joy to hear. While many pianists bang their way through this piece, his performance was all about singing tone, as well as clarity. The pianist brought out Schumann’s inner themes wonderfully. The Intermezzo is the heart of this five-movement work, and it was romantic and deeply felt. The finale was fleet and brilliant, yet never at the expense of beautiful phrasing and tone.

Rabinovich’s encore was a short dance movement by Couperin, embellished with trills and turns. I was so blown away by his performance, that I bought his CD afterwards — something I rarely do. Then, I couldn’t stop listening to it — a completely different program, played with extraordinary virtuosity.  Let’s hope he visits Cincinnati again.

The Ariel Quartet performed this time with pianist Awadagin Pratt
The Ariel Quartet performed this time with pianist Awadagin Pratt

And on Nov. 10, I was in a very large crowd in Corbett Auditorium at CCM for the Ariel Quartet’s continuation of their season. This time, the musicians — Alexandra Kazovsky, Gershon Gerchikov, Jan Grüning and Amit Even-Tov —  shared with program with CCM piano professor Awadagin Pratt, for a crowd-pleasing reading of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No. 2, Op. 81.

Each of the Ariel’s programs is an inventive mix. The first, in September, included a ravishing performance of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. This program opened with Schubert’s single movement, “Quartettsatz,” the only movement completed of his C Minor Quartet before his death. It was a stunning opener —  lyrical and effortlessly phrased, yet the ensemble attacked its accents with fire.

Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8 made a stark contrast. The players instantly conveyed the bleak mood of the mournful Largo that opens and closes the work. Their excellent program notes pointed out that it opens with a four-note fugue on the composer’s own motto, DSCH. The music was somberly underscored by long, dark tones in Even-Tov’s cello.

The central movements (there are five) included a frenzied dance inspired by a Jewish tune, performed with the players on the edges of their seats, and a cynical waltz, played with breathtaking lightness and wit. The return to the Largo after so much intensity was like a breath of fresh air, and the cellist performed her theme with immense sweetness of tone. The musicians’ split-second precision is always exciting to behold. In the end, their command of color, mood and expression left a haunting impression.

Dvorak’s Piano Quintet was a rewarding close to the program. The wonderful Bohemian folk tunes tumbled out one after another with lightness and purity. I have never heard Pratt play with such a light, nuanced touch. The group expertly navigated Dvorak’s many chameleon-like changes of mood. The second movement’s “Dumka” glowed, and the sonority in the strings was stunning. The scherzo was fleet and bright, and Pratt tossed off its runs and flourishes with ease. The finale, with its galvanizing fugue, had the crowd instantly on their feet.

At the opening of the concert, dean Peter Landgren announced that a substantial gift was made to the Ariel Quartet’s residency program.









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