Saturday, September 17, 2005

CONCERT REVIEW: Beethoven thrills big CSO crowd

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, September 17, 2005

Beethoven got it on for the Cincinnati Symphony Friday night as the orchestra registered a near full house at Music Hall.

That's saying something for the nation's largest concert hall (3,516 seats) and with ticket sales bulging for tonight's 8 p.m. repeat, the orchestra is positioned to set an opening weekend attendance record.

Impeccably led by music director Paavo Jarvi, the program was matched to the occasion, with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, a quartet of splendid soloists and the magnificent May Festival Chorus.

There was a celebratory - and an unstuffy - air about the whole thing as patrons lined up for complimentary "Get Your Beethoven On!" tattoos (the temporary kind) and snatched up Beethoven bobblehead dolls at the Bravo Shop in the lobby. All a prelude, however, to the business of Beethoven, classical music's proven heavy hitter.

Curtain-raiser was his Overture to "The Creatures of Prometheus," a nimbly executed bit of bubbly, followed by "Ah! perfido," an early concert aria that introduced the soprano of the evening, Camilla Tilling.

Swedish born Tilling demonstrated a keen dramatic presence in the work, which expresses the conflicting emotions of a woman abandoned by her lover. Laser bright in her anger, she clothed it in gentler tones as she implored the gods to spare him vengeance and let her die instead. The volume of Music Hall swallowed up her softer moments but the effect was genuinely affecting.

The Ninth Symphony opens in darkness and works its way toward the bright light of the "Ode to Joy" finale. Jarvi clothed the beginning in mystery, allowing the timpani a big thwack on the recapitulation, lots of detail in the woodwinds and a big, emphatic close.

Principal timpanist Richard Jensen was a standout in the scherzo, making sharp reports with his sticks, which he wielded with the tautness of a spring. The Trio showed off two of the CSO's newest members, principal French hornist John Zirbel and principal oboist Liang Wang.

The slow movement was tender, almost like a love song now and then. Jarvi opened it up on the trumpet fanfares near the end, presaging the excitement of the final movement.

The finale's opening dissonance moved quickly into the cello recitative, then the first statement (by the strings) of the "Ode to Joy" melody, given a delightfully transparent effect by allowing the winds to bleed through the texture.

Baritone Stephen Powell made his exhortation to joy with warmth and congeniality, joined by the exultant chorus. Jarvi played up the earthy humor of the contra-bassoon belches leading into the "Turkish March," which he sped along, joined by tenor Stanford Olsen's exhilarating solo.

The chorus railed the heavens brilliantly after a brisk, muscular fugato. The quartet, including mezzo-soprano Jane Gilbert, gave the work a nimble, operatic spin, then Jarvi led a pulse-quickening rush to the end, Joan Voorhees' piccolo pealing away on top.

For tickets to tonight's repeat, call (513) 381-3300.

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