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Soloist easily handles tough piano concerto

by Eric E. Harrison | January 26, 2014 at 3:52 a.m.

Saturday night at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Music Hall, pianist Norman Krieger made one of the hardest pieces in the repertoire, Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, look and sound easy.

Just as he was supposed to do.

With just the right balance of force when the composer called for it and tenderness when he didn’t, Krieger, soloing with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and conductor Philip Mann, commanded the keyboard during the titanic piece, less a virtuosic vehicle than a symphonic work in which the virtuoso, though front and center, is fully integrated with the orchestra. (As witness, for example, the absence of lengthy, showy cadenzas.)

It would be impossible to listen to the sunny, sprightly fourth movement without a smile; Mann sure had one on his face when he showed it to the audience, and an even broader one after the performance.

The orchestra, set farther back on the stage than usual to make room for the 9-foot Steinway, sounded a bit thin in spots but gave Krieger superb support. Principal cellist David Gerstein’s cantabile third-movement solo, wreathed in a halo of violas, was absolutely gorgeous.

The program also featured just enough high-energy, excellently performed music by Czech-born composer Antonin Dvorak, Brahms’ friend and protege, to keep the second half from becoming an anticlimax and fulfill the “Bohemian Rhapsody” Masterworks concert title.

That included four of Dvorak’s 16 Slavonic Dances - three from the op.72 (No. 2, in e minor, No. 5 in b-flat minor and No. 7 in C major) and the finale from op.46, No. 8 in g minor - and the once-popular, recently neglected Scherzo capriccioso, op.66.

Krieger, Mann and the “Bohemian” band will reprise the concert at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, West Markham Street and Broadway, Little Rock. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761 or online at arkansassymphony.org.

Arkansas, Pages 14 on 01/26/2014

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