By Lawrence Budmen

During his three year sojourn in America as director of New York's National Conservatory (in many ways the forerunner of the Julliard School), Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) was greatly impressed by the playing of the cellist and composer Victor Herbert. When he attended the premiere performance of Herbert's 2nd Cello Concerto in 1894, Dvorak resolved to compose a major work in that genre. The resultant "Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra," Opus 104 was Dvorak's final large scale orchestral score. This masterwork has become the most frequently performed cello concerto almost since the day of its creation. Originally composed for the Czech cellist Hanus Wihan, the concerto has been associated with such legendary musicians as Casals, Feuermann, Piatigorsky, Rose, and Rostropovich. When a young artist performs this thrice familiar work in a manner that makes an original statement (at least temporarily rendering the score's performance history irrelevant), there is cause for celebration! That is exactly what the young Berlin based, Peruvian cellist Claudio Bohorquez accomplished in his performance of this mighty score with conductor Hans Graf and the New World Symphony on November 7 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, Florida, USA. 

From his first entrance in the opening Allegro, Bohorquez's approach to the score was deeply personal. With a warm, lava-like, deeply reverberant tone, he seemed to really embrace the music. Bohorquez played with a rhapsodic freedom of utterance. His measured, lyrical exposition of the movement's second theme seemed to touch the very soul of the music. In the Adagio ma non troppo, Bohorquez's cello sang the intense, soulful lament of a homesick refugee. Rarely has this movement's principal theme been played so expressively. In the Finale: Allegro molto, Bohorquez's brilliant, razor sharp articulation of the principal theme (at a daringly fast tempo) was bracing. His eloquent, romanticized shaping of the movement's second subject defined beauty itself! A fearlessly virtuosic rendering of the double stops in the cadenza capped a spectacular performance that breathed new life into a repertoire staple! Bohorquez (winner of the Pablo Casals Cello Competition in 2000) is an extraordinary musician! His dazzling technique, glorious tone, and probing musical intellect mark him as one of the stars of a new generation of string players! 

Bohorquez could not have had a more musically simpatico collaborator than Hans Graf. (Graf is currently Music Director of the Houston Symphony and has held similar posts with France's Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, Canada's Calgary Philharmonic, and Austria's Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra.) This gifted Austrian conductor was in total command of the New World players. From exquisite, ethereal pianissimos to brilliant full orchestral perorations, he drew a full range of shadings, dynamics, and instrumental coloration from the ensemble. His spacious approach to the introduction of the Dvorak concerto allowed for many orchestral details to emerge that get lost in less thoughtfully conceived performances. The exquisite wind playing in the concerto's second movement blended marvelously with Bohorquez's lyrical phrasing - all beautifully shaped by Graf. 

Graf's interpretation of the "Concerto for Orchestra" by Bela Bartok (1881-1945) was deeply illuminating. This 1943 score is Bartok's orchestral swan song. (His 3rd Piano Concerto and Viola Concerto were left unfinished at the composer's death. Both were eventually completed by Bartok's pupil Tibor Serly, perhaps the most eloquent conductor and interpreter of his works.) While many conductors play the "Concerto for Orchestra" as an over the top orchestral showpiece, Graf found the poetry and nostalgia that are the score's elusive subtext. Instead of the usual hard driven orchestral fireworks, Graf emphasized the music's emotional inner core. The opening somber tones of the Introduction had the frightening intensity of a Dies Irae. Graf found the wit and elegance in the second movement Games of Couples. Brightly pungent wind playing riveted attention. The brass chorale (Bartok's modern version of a Bach chorale) soared eloquently as if from some deeper emotional depths. Graf evoked the eerie atmosphere of the central elegy. Those dissonant, quasi-Impressionistic harmonies that are so typical of Bartok's "night music" movements were sensitively delineated. Graf deftly captured the elegance of the Intermezzo. His soaring evocation of the nostalgic string theme was deeply moving. In the Finale, Graf gave full play to the unbridled vigor of a wild Hungarian dance without bombast. In the contrasting episodes the lovely articulation of the strings was breathtaking! The brilliant conclusion was played with stunning orchestral virtuosity. Graf's performance was exquisitely molded and highly eloquent. He vividly traced Bartok's musical journey from the depths of despair to a reaffirmation of the human spirit! The vigorous, dynamic brass playing was a standout in a stellar ensemble performance! 

Graf opened the concert with a robust, folk inflected performance of the Overture to "The Bartered Bride" by the Czech master Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884). The crisp, vigorous orchestral playing was a joy to hear! With Bohorquez's magisterial version of the Dvorak concerto, this concert offered that musical rarity - truly perfect chemistry between conductor and orchestra. An evening of great music making!

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