Ju Hee Suh avoids the perils of Rachmaninoff

April 29, 1991|By Peter M. Krask | Peter M. Krask,Evening Sun Staff

Music critics aren't supposed to like the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. It is over-played. It goes on too long. Its orchestration is soupy and its form is uninspired. But in the hands of a pianist like Ju Hee Suh, who played the piece with the BSO this weekend, even the crankiest critic has to abandon the ship of High Art and succumb to its unabashed loveliness.

Suh, a last-minute replacement for Zoltan Kocsis, who canceled due to a case of contact dermatitis, played with taste, elegance and a velvety sound so invitingly warm, you wanted to take a bath in it. She is a pianist who does not draw attention to herself with empty virtuosity -- a temptation in this concerto. Rather, she seduces the listener, note by note, pulling him in, entirely unaware that she also happens to be playing close to a billion notes per measure.

Suh was at her best in the work's second movement. Each phrase was shaped with simplicity and sensitivity -- all in one melodic line that remained unbroken from start to finish. She was not afraid to play quietly, making the interplay between the solo woodwinds ravishingly intimate. When moments of power were called for, Suh had both the muscle and the control needed to make those moments work without vulgarity.

David Zinman and the orchestra accompanied Suh with thoughtfulness and just the slightest -- and very much needed -- hint of schmaltz. There were some initial problems with balance, which may be the fault of the concerto itself, that disappeared as the work progressed.

After indulging in such aural extravagance, the Beethoven 7th Symphony, which made up the second half of the concert, was a splash in the face with ice water. Zinman lead an athletic and scrupulously clean performance. It was pristine, at times majestic, well-played and just a little boring.

Tempos were fast, in the fourth movement hellishly fast, and the orchestra played with virtuosity. Everything was clearly articulated, each detail made transparent, as if Zinman were blowing the dust out of the musical gears in order to get the machine running at top speed.

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