Beilman wows in ‘Seasons’ in all-Baroque concert at CSO

01.12.19
Benjamin Beilman
Cincinnati Business Courier

Music Hall was packed to the rafters on Friday night for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's concert featuring "The Four Seasons." It's always a treat to hear Vivaldi's popular set of four violin concertos, but the audience may not have expected the breathtaking performance given by the soloist, Benjamin Beilman.

The exciting debut of the virtuoso American violinist was just one of the highlights of an all-Baroque program led by guest conductor Richard Egarr. Chamber-sized music such as Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," played in the second half, and the program's opening works, J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 4, are not usually staples of a symphony orchestra's repertoire. At the CSO, there are only a handful of previous performances in the orchestra's history.

In his Cincinnati Symphony debut, Egarr, who is music director of the Academy of Ancient Music, led refreshing and exhilarating accounts of these masterpieces from the harpsichord. I don't think I've heard Baroque music played with such atmosphere and emotion while maintaining the "historically informed" performance style of clear textures and brisk tempos.

Beilman, who is still in his twenties, studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and counts the German star Christian Tetzlaff among his mentors. He already has a fistful of prestigious prizes, including an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and plays the 1709 "Engleman" Stradivarius on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.

The violinist was a dynamic presence in Vivaldi's picturesque concertos, each a portrait in three movements of a season described in poems provided by the composer. In the first, "Spring," the dialogue of "birdsong" between Beilman and associate concertmaster Stefani Matsuo sparkled. Beilman, who stood within the small orchestral ensemble, felt each phrase and moved with the music, often turning to communicate with orchestral players.

 

He tackled the virtuosities of "Summer" with fire, dash and breathtaking ease. The sustained heat of its central movement was vividly portrayed.

Each of the Four Seasons had distinctive character. "Autumn" had a genial atmosphere, and Beilman's intelligent phrasing drew the listener in. Then there was "Winter," with its shivering tremolos in the orchestra and spectacular fireworks for the soloist.  Beilman dug into its virtuosities and pushed ahead. It was only in the slow movement, though, where we had a taste of the exquisite tone he could achieve on his Stradivarius, played against pizzicatos in the orchestra. It was mesmerizing.

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