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The CSO and Trevor Pinnock get results in eclectic program

3-12-00 Conductor Trevor Pinnock leads English Conssort Concert Syphony Center 220 S. he responds applause after their performance....phoby al

3-12-00 Conductor Trevor Pinnock leads the English Conssort in Concert at the Syphony Center at 220 S. he responds to the applause after their by al podgorski....cst.....neg...00-03-215

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Updated: July 10, 2012 6:07AM

British conductor Trevor Pinnock is absolutely his own man. Known for decades as an early music and harpsichord advocate, he is undogmatic and curious about many eras and types of music. He encourages young soloists whose focus is different from his own. His stage presence is a cross between a bantamweight boxer and a merry English music hall entertainer.

But he gets results most of the time. As he did in his belated Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut two years ago, Pinnock, now 65, brought an eclectic program Thursday to Symphony Hall and will vary it on Saturday and Tuesday with more material for the CSO’s “Keys to the City” piano festival as it winds down.

As with those 2010 appearances, the most successful piece was something of a surprise. Except for the British adoption of Mendelssohn (1809-47) as a kindred spirit, I would not have associated Pinnock with the early Romantic sound and sweep of the German composer. But his take on the A Minor Third Symphony, “Scottish,” was one of the most enchanting and cliche-free I have heard in a very long time. Singing, musical, evocative, all of the things Mendelssohn is when we first meet him as children. Stephen Williamson’s clarinet solos and associate concertmaster Stephanie Jeong’s leadership of the strings had a lightness and beauty that characterized the whole performance even when Pinnock occasionally made some pretty fast tempo choices.

Three interesting soloists were on hand for Beethoven’s 1803-04 C Major Triple Concerto. American violinist Stefan Jackiw had actually played with the CSO nine years ago when he was just 18, and he nearly stole the show in a chamber music program here Sunday afternoon. Russian cellist Pavel Gomziakov made his memorable North American debut in that 2010 CSO concert with Pinnock. South African-born multiple keyboard player Kristian Bezuidenhout is making his debut with this week’s concerts.

Each has a distinct, light sound, in the case of the strings, light in a good way and in the way that Beethoven intended in this work, which is often merely a party piece for big-name soloists. Bezuidenhout, on first hearing, sounded meticulous, but just light. The three men rarely came fully together, and Pinnock’s role here was lackluster. Perhaps that was due to too many listenings in my teenage years to the recording of the 1970 Henryk Szeryng, Janos Starker and Claudio Arrau performance. The audience, however, demanded repeated curtain calls.

The curtain raiser was a real rarity, Debussy’s later orchestration of an 1890-commissioned, four-hand piano piece, “Scottish March on a Popular Theme.” It fit with the “Keys to the City” theme, gave us a taste of earlier Debussy and certainly made clear that the opening themes of the Mendelssohn symphony are “Scottish,” even if Mendelssohn himself couldn’t decide if they were.

Note: For the Saturday and Tuesday dates, the Beethoven is replaced with Mozart’s F Major Concerto for Three Pianos, K. 242, with Pinnock joining Bezuidenhout and Benjamin Hochman as soloists. At noon Sunday, Pinnock and Bezuidenhout join the CSO’s Gerard McBurney for a free symposium on the history of keyboard instruments.

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