Saturday, September 24, 2005

CONCERT REVIEW: Orchestra creates a dark, icy spell

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, September 24, 2005

A couple of surprises greeted listeners at the Cincinnati Symphony's second concert of the season Friday morning at Music Hall.

One was the second "half," which consisted of Sibelius' single-movement Symphony No. 7.

Sibelius' Seventh is only twenty minutes long, compared to an hour-and-a-half for the Brahms' Violin Concerto and Arthur Honegger's Symphony No. 2, both heard before intermission. When music director Paavo Jarvi dropped his hands after the strings' final upward surge in the Sibelius, the audience wasn't sure it was over. However, signaled by his sideways glance, the smattering who had begun to clap were joined by the rest.

Another surprise was Honegger's symphony. Not heard at the CSO in 30 years, it is nominally for strings and trumpet, though the trumpet only plays for 49 bars at the end.

It was a sophisticated and consummately played program that rewarded and intrigued the matinee crowd.

Guest artist Leonidas Kavakos gave a commanding performance of the Brahms. Jarvi set it up for him with an elegantly crafted exposition in the first movement. It was like lifting the cover of an intricately inlaid jewel box, with qualities of intimacy and transparency not often achieved in large symphonic works. Kavakos answered with muscle as well as nuance, drawing an opulent sound from his 1692 Stradivarius.

The spell continued in the Adagio, with a gorgeous opening effusion by the woodwinds and soulful playing by Kavakos. The gypsy rondo finale was filled with zest, Kavakos and Jarvi giving a pointed "lift" to the kicky theme, which was sprayed with woodwind trills.

The two symphonies framed the concert. Honegger's 1941 score is dark and doleful, reflecting the circumstances of its composition (during the Nazi occupation of Paris). Principal violist Marna Street introduced the mournful ostinato theme, a soft, halting alternation of two notes, taken up by the rest of the orchestra in contrast with angry, upward volleys.

The second movement plunged into even deeper despair. Jarvi gave the strings a painful, cutting edge here, but light dawned in the finale, where principal trumpeter Philip Collins doubled the violins in a triumphant chorale amid scurrying figures as of people emerging from the shadows.

Sibelius' Seventh Symphony (1924) - the last the composer was to write before remaining virtually silent for the last 30 years of his life - is an enigma. Autumnal in mood, it features a thrice-recurring trombone solo that breaks through the texture like a shaft of light. Principal trombonist Cristian Ganicenco soared here, as did the brasses in general in this brass-filled work.

The work is structurally complex, with many interwoven motifs that convey color-soaked images: winds blowing in the trees, "icy" strings, dance-like passages. Jarvi treated it organically, favoring brisk tempos and letting all of its strands emerge. The strings, divided into as many as nine different parts, were sumptuous and full, while the brass glowed like a radiant sunset.

Repeat is 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall.

No comments: