Concert Review: "NHSO Digs Deep into the Canon", March 14, 2023
By Adam Matlock, New Have Independent
"...The highlight of the evening was the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with soloist Chelsea Guo. The first movement in particular made an incredibly transparent display of the possibilities of the piano to contrast or complement the orchestra. This work shows the outright influence of some of Beethoven’s classical-era predecessors, and reflects the rigorous musical organization that was a main characteristic of that era. Using another parlance, you might see the orchestra and the piano as trading fours.
The effect of that on Friday night was massive. Guo navigated lengthy solo passages with all of the subtle shifts of dynamic and tempo needed to bring the full potential out of writing that sometimes felt restrained by the formal rigor. Miller served as perfect intermediary between Guo and the orchestra, navigating the dynamic middle section of the first movement with effortless coordination. By the time Guo began the lengthy cadenza, or solo section, that concluded the first movement, the room was full of energy; the cadenza heightened that with an edge-of-seat intensity.
The second movement then showed some of the sense of invention that Beethoven would bring to his later orchestral writing. At one point Guo’s left hand served as a hushed, songlike counterpoint to the strings. At other moments, the piano would appear to be going furiously, but was masked by the orchestra, then slowly revealed as the brass and winds pulled back. The orchestra brought a lot of care to this exchange, which carried through as the third movement arrived without interruption, or attaca.
They, along with the rest of the audience, were struck by Guo’s encore. The piano lid was closed, and after a short departure from the stage, Guo returned and sang Franz Lehar’s “Vilja’s Song” from the operetta The Merry Widow. Her full tone and restrained vibrato allowed the English-translated lyrics to come across fully into the hall. Where the final movement of the Beethoven had an almost mocking playfulness to it, the Lehar aria had a directness and sincerity that served as a clear musical contrast...."