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Published: Saturday, 5/10/2008

Pianist puts crescendo on Classics series finale


The final concert in the Toledo Symphony's Classics series for this season was all about dancing - with nary a tutu nor a pair of toe shoes in sight.

Pianist William Wolfram, in his third and most exciting appearance on the Peristyle stage, raised the bar for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 as a stand-alone work in his first performance of it minus the ballet barre. The New York pianist has become known for his interpretation of the work for the much-performed Balanchine Ballet set to the same score.

Under the savvy leadership of principal conductor Stefan Sanderling, the symphony partnered beautifully with the pianist throughout all three movements.

A commanding presence physically, Wolfram also brought authority to the keyboard, particularly during the long first movement, Allegro Brillante. A consummate ensemble player during tutti passages, he stepped up during an extended, cadenzalike solo in the same movement. There, it was simply pedal to the metal, although speed and dexterity never overtook clarity and definition.

The tenderest moments came during the second movement, an Andante, in which Wolfram was joined by concertmaster Kirk Toth and principal cellist Martha Reikow, as soloists with the orchestra - a later version of the concerto grosso.

Opening with one of Tchaikovsky's most heartfelt chords, the Andante proceeded delicately from solo violin to duo to trio. Each player melded with the orchestra, then emerged for a brilliant turn of musical phrase.

The final movement, Allegro con fuoco, lived up to the tempo marking that translates, with fire, once more casting Wolfram in the starring position.

It seemed his hungry fingers were eating up the keyboard, spinning out complex runs on all 88 keys, then breaking for a powerful melodic statement.

After the final thundering chord, the large audience drew him back for three curtain calls.

Post intermission, the symphony stepped off in Rachmaninoff's lush and dramatic Symphonic Dances - ironically, a transcription of a work originally written for two pianos.

How nice to hear the saxophone's rich warmth in the first movement, one of a handful of shapely solos featuring piano, bass clarinet, and English horn that highlighted the first movement. In the second section, Sanderling guided the orchestra into an irresistible waltz tempo that spun through Rachmaninoff's inspired voicings.

This concert will repeat at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Wolfram and members of the Symphony plus pianist Michael Boyd will perform chamber music by Elgar and Brahms in the Artists Up Close series at 3 p.m. tomorrow on the Peristyle stage. Symphony tickets are $24-51; tickets for the Sunday recital are $10, all at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.

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