Friday, November 18, 2005

CONCERT REVIEW: Jarvi, Symphony excel with Grieg, Bartok

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, November 18, 2005

There was a stealth premiere by Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony on Thursday night at Music Hall - Incidental Music from Grieg's "Peer Gynt."

"In the Hall of the Mountain King" and "Morning Song," two of the best known excerpts in classical music, CSO premieres?

Not per se, granted, but the compilation by Järvi - 10 of the 26 numbers Grieg wrote for Ibsen's play, plus "Bridal Procession," a Grieg piano piece orchestrated by Johan Halvorsen - was.

Making it even fresher was CSO violinist Paul Patterson, who performed the violin solos on a genuine, mother-of-pearl-inlaid "hardanger" fiddle.

It made for a delightful second half to the program, which also included a real CSO premiere, Zoltan Kodaly's Concerto for Orchestra (1941), and Bartok's 1936 Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta - a premiere, perhaps, for younger members of the audience, since it hasn't been performed by the CSO since 1984 (and only once before that, in 1959).

One of the composer's greatest works, the Bartok teemed with color and drama in Järvi's hands.

The opening Andante tranquillo was a masterpiece of timing and dynamics, a sinuous fugue snaking softly through divided strings to a fortissimo peak, then unwinding in contrary motion into muted fragments, which coalesced in a soft unison at the end.

The second movement (Allegro) was like music for a rumble, with buoyant rhythms, swarming runs and forceful timpani (Richard Jensen).

Following was a ghostly Adagio, a passing parade of eerie sounds, from Bill Platt's calibrated xylophone and icy glissandos (strings, piano, harp and celesta) to concertmaster Timothy Lees' high, wandering solo.

The kick-up-your-heels finale was earthy and good-humored, pianist Michael Chertock playing chase with the violins at one point.

The work's opening theme gushed up in full harmonic dress near the end to bell-like accompaniment in the celesta (Heather MacPhail), then ended with a bang.

"Peer Gynt" is a kind of Nordic "Rake's Progress" about a self-indulgent young man who wreaks havoc on those around him, learns his lessons on the road, then returns home, sadder and wiser, to the woman (Solveig) who has loved him all along. Järvi's version included all eight numbers from the two well-known "Peer Gynt" Suites arranged in roughly chronological order.

He saved the saddest and most telling number, "Ase's Death," for last, though Ase (Peer's mother) dies earlier in the play.

Järvi is an absolute master of this repertoire so it was an occasion to drink in pure sonic pleasure. The characters bowed in "At the Wedding," a bright, bustling number with shy Solveig's theme enclosed and Peer himself in the guise of the fiddle.

Patterson took a position next to the percussion rather than offstage (as Grieg directed) where the smaller sound of the folk fiddle might not have projected in Music Hall. He played with a convincing swagger, coaxing the distinctive ring from the resonating strings beneath the instrument's fingerboard and giving a real "kick" to the music.

"Ingrid's Lament" throbbed with pain, but of the acute kind - Järvi saved the true threnody for Ase - while "The Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter" had a real rustic beat.

He built the CSO to a frenzy in "In the Hall of the Mountain King," though I missed the troll chorus (hear that on Järvi's Virgin Classics CD with the Estonian National Orchestra). And "Morning Song" brought smiles of recognition to the audience.

The gentle, sylph-like "Anitra's Dance" signaled Peer's undoing, followed by a heartfelt, tugging "Solveig's Song."

The CSO brass shone in the storm-tossed "Peer's Homecoming" which was followed almost without a break by "Ase's Death," where Järvi took a long moment at the end before dropping his hands.

The opening Kodaly, an easily accessible work with dance-like vitality and lush melody, showed off the CSO in all its colors.

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