In his local debut with the San Diego Symphony, Brazilian pianist Jose Carlos Cocarelli demonstrated the virtues that have won him numerous awards, including second prize in the 1989 Van Cliburn competition. Cocarelli’s percussive, rhythmically incisive technique handily exploited the virtuoso brilliance of Prokofiev’s familiar Third Piano Concerto.
Cocarelli mastered all of the composer’s daunting keyboard requirements: the whirlwind octaves, the rapid cross-hand passages, and the finger-stretching dense textures.
What eluded this young performer, however, was a sense of Prokofiev’s sophisticated musical style. Music director Yoav Talmi and the orchestra underscored the sardonic twist to the middle movement’s march theme, for example, but these nuances eluded Cocarelli’s unyielding, humorless approach.
The initial allure of Cocarelli’s well-disciplined athleticism wore thin as Thursday’s concerto progressed. And, in the final movement, Cocarelli pounced on the keys with a Bartokian fervor that sounded much too brutal for Prokofiev.
The concert’s real star was Talmi, who took Cesar Franck’s D Minor Symphony and made the old warhorse sound fresh and vital even to jaded ears. The brilliance of the brass sections and unusually sweet sonorities from the strings could not have been more persuasive. The knowing conductor subordinated Franck’s constantly fluctuating moods to a clear vision of the symphony’s overall shape. Talmi found grandeur where many conductors mine only bombast, and, as usual, Talmi’s pacing was superb.
To open the concert, in memory of Aaron Copland, who died Sunday at age 90, Talmi chose the composer’s “Quiet City” for trumpet, English horn and strings. The work’s somber, elegiac quality proved a fitting, understated tribute to a composer whose popular image has been unfortunately linked to a constricted canon of rambunctious ballet scores. English horn player Sidney Green and principal trumpet Calvin Price traversed the wistful solo lines with stylish confidence.
After the Copland, Talmi and the orchestra offered a calm, sonically shimmering interpretation of Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite. Knowing that this precious bauble can easily descend into a chain of clever effects, Talmi elicited a measured but graceful, dreamlike progression until the poignant climax of the final movement.