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CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Benjamin Britten was a protean talent, but he wrote only one piano concerto, in 1938, when the genre was still in its post-Romantic heyday. Like Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and other key modernists, Britten saw the piano as a percussion instrument, and he had in mind a "bravura concerto with orchestral accompaniment." The four-movement work, which amounts to a historical survey of keyboard idioms, is chock-full of inventive touches. It has a morbid waltz and also a sardonic march modeled on those favored by his Soviet contemporaries. It exudes a brashness, an impatience with old ideas, hinted at in the subversion of the generic niceties. Unmistakably a work of impetuous youth--Britten was 24--the concerto deserves a soloist with plenty of technique and a no-holds-barred approach. Finnish-born Ralf Gothoni may fill the bill. A recipient of the coveted Irving S. Gilmore prize (a kind of MacArthur "genius" grant for keyboardists), Gothoni has already gained a reputation as the definitive interpreter of the Britten concerto, which he's recorded for EMI. He's a confident, subtle player who can dazzle without being flamboyant--the ideal champion of the rarely performed concerto in its Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiere. Israeli-born conductor Yaron Traub--a highly promising newcomer who's also making his Ravinia debut--is in charge of the proceedings. Other works on the "soloist showcase" program are Haydn's Cello Concerto in C Major (featuring cellist Gary Hoffman), Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola (with violinist Miriam Fried and violist Tabea Zimmermann), and Tchaikovsky's Capriccio italien. Saturday, 8 PM, pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 728-4642.

TED SHEN

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