By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, September 23, 2005
With Paavo Järvi, you can expect the unexpected. That happened Friday morning, when his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra program matched up two rarely heard, but extraordinary, pieces with Brahms’ familiar Violin Concerto.
Together, it was a revelation. The concert, which opened with Arthur Honegger’s Symphony No. 2 and closed with Sibelius’ Seventh, was inspiring from beginning to end.
Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, 37, soloist in the Brahms, is a former teen star who has matured into an artist of utmost caliber. Not terribly demonstrative by today’s standards, he projected a huge, effortless sound on his 1692 Stradivarius, and tackled the finale’s fireworks with gutsy ardor.
Yet, fireworks aside, he’s mostly a thoughtful musician, who took the time to let Brahms’ exquisite phrases breathe. The first movement balanced sweetness and intensity, and the cadenza (by Joseph Joachim) was all about effortless, gleaming sound.
The orchestra’s new principal oboist, Liang Wang, took the slow movement’s opening theme warmly, and it was beautifully answered by Kavakos’ violin. The violinist drew sparks in the dance-like Hungarian theme in the finale, leaping to punctuate a musical idea, yet never in a display of ego.
In a seamless collaboration, Järvi matched the spacious, noble feeling in the orchestra, and the smallish crowd was on its feet at the cutoff.
Sibelius’ final symphony of 1924 is unusual for being an expansive piece in one connected movement. Almost a symphonic poem, it has that unmistakable aura of Scandinavian moroseness, with broad brushes of color in the strings, sparkling winds and majestic, craggy peaks in the brass.
This kind of music is ideal for Music Hall’s magnificent acoustics, and Järvi knows how to project its drama and power. He created a glowing canvas, bringing out inner themes and other details while capturing the immense sweep of the music.
The mournful quality of Honegger’s Second, not played here since 1957, evokes the pall that hung over Paris during the Nazi occupation. Yet following the somber mood of the first two movements (for strings only), the finale brought a glorious summation in the form of a soaring trumpet call (Philip Collins). That, of course, represented the American liberators.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today Saturday in Music Hall. Tickets: (513) 381-3300 or www.cincinnatisymphony.org.