By Lawrence Budmen

There is a special chemistry between Vladimir Ashkenazy and the members of the Cleveland Orchestra. Ashkenazy first led the Clevelanders in 1983 and for seven years (1987-1994) was the orchestra's principal guest conductor. With other ensembles, Ashkenazy's conducting can be inconsistent but with the Cleveland Orchestra, he produces stellar music making. This writer has heard mesmerizing Ashkenazy-Cleveland versions of Shostakovich's sprawling 8th Symphony and Elgar's deeply moving 1st Symphony. Ashkenazy and the Cleveland ensemble displayed their first rate performance capability at the concluding program of the Clevelanders' annual South Florida residency on March 26, 2010 at the Arsht Center in Miami, Florida, USA.

The distinctly romantic program opened with the Nocturne in F Major from Glazunov's orchestral setting of piano works by Chopin for Chopiniana, the 1906 ballet by legendary choreographer Mikhail Fokine (which was the first version of Les Sylphides). Chopin's dreamy music takes on an unmistakably Russian tinge in Glazunov's opulent, colorful treatment. This fascinating historical artifact was tailor made for the Cleveland musicians who played it with passion and lustrous instrumental timbres.

That balletic excerpt set the perfect mood for Chopin's Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21, played with beauty and exceptional subtlety and idiomatic musicality by Ingrid Fliter. The Argentine born Fliter was Silver Medal winner in the 2000 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. In 2006 she was recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Award, bestowed by a panel of experts for exceptional musicianship and artistry. (Previous Gilmore winners include Leif Ove Andsnes and Piotr Anderszewski . The 2010 Gilmore recipient is Russian born Kirill Gerstein.) Fliter is a great Chopin pianist. Under her deft touch, the opening movement emerged light as air, a beautifully translucent play of sunlight and clouds. The heart of the performance was Fliter's exquisite reading of the Larghetto, sensitively shaped with a singing line that was truly operatic in the best pianistic sense. Fliter breezed through the final Allegro vivace, producing lovely tonal contrasts without succumbing to the temptation of extreme volume. The dance like rhythms were inflected with verve and wonderful charm and élan. Here was Chopin playing of the first order. Fliter is a major talent, an artist of superb musical taste and magnificent artistry. Ashkenazy, who knows more than a little about great Chopin playing, offered a first rate accompaniment, always dovetailing the finely honed orchestral line to Fliter's rhythmic and lyrical flights.

Ashkenazy concluded the evening with a suite from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet score. Unlike most conductors ,he did not play movements from the three orchestral suites that the composer arranged. (Prokofiev made numerous cuts in the score and stitched together divergent scenes to achieve those enticing potpourris.) Rather Ashkenazy led excerpts from the original ballet in chronological sequence, producing a magnificent realization of the unadorned score. It was wonderful to hear the music as Prokofiev originally conceived it. With the Cleveland Orchestra in high gear, the playing of every instrumental section was superior. Ashkenazy captured the tragic passion and balletic drama of this dance masterpiece; the vivid orchestral colors a tribute to this great ensemble. The music of the final scene was chilling, Ashkenazy raising the temperature to a fever pitch and the Cleveland strings and brass playing with high octane intensity. Again this unique combination of orchestra and conductor produced musical magic!

The 2011 Miami residency of the Cleveland Orchestra opens on January 28 and 29, 2011 at the Arsht Center in Miami, Florida, USA with music director Franz Welser-Most conducting Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Strauss' Ein Heldenleben and Schumann's Piano Concerto (with Pierre-Laurent Aimard). On March 4 and 5 Giancarlo Guerrero leads Kabalevsky's Overture to Colas Breugnon, Elgar's Enigma Variations, Ravel's Bolero and Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto (with A ugustin Hadelich). The series concludes on April 8 and 9 with Jiri Belohlavek conducting Haydn's Symphony No.96 (Miracle), Dvorak's Symphony No.7 and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.2 (with Horacio Gutierrez). For information, see


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