By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, November 18, 2005
Grieg's music to "Peer Gynt," including the famous "In the Hall of the Mountain King," is familiar to most - if only from Warner Bros. cartoons. But you've never heard it performed as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra did Thursday night under Paavo Järvi.
Järvi's own compilation of Grieg's incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play, "Peer Gynt," formed half of Thursday's all-orchestral program in Music Hall. The captivating performance included the authentic touch of a "Hardanger fiddle," a folk violin from the region of the Hardanger Fjord.
With a Hungarian first half - Kodaly's Concerto for Orchestra and Bartok's spectacular Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta - it was an evening of nationalistic music that showed off the virtuosity of the orchestra.
Peer Gynt was a mythical Norwegian figure, a drunken womanizer whose adventures included kidnapping a bride, sleeping with the Troll-King's daughter and taking a harem. All of this, of course, broke the hearts of sweet Solveig, who loved him regardless, and his poor mother.
Järvi succeeded in pulling together a stunning suite from 26 numbers - 90 minutes - of music. (Incidentally, Järvi's Virgin Classics recording of "Peer Gynt" with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and singers is ravishing.)
The opening scene, "At the Wedding," was a vivid canvas of songful melodies and lusty folk rhythms. Violinist Paul Patterson's flamboyant solos on the Hardanger fiddle added flourish, including some impressive left-hand pizzicatos.
The music was full of drama and imagery. "In the Hall of the Mountain King" was cloaked in mystery, as Järvi stretched the beginning and gradually accelerated to a spectacular climax of brass and timpani. The sunrise music that followed had a sumptuous, glowing sound.
The musicians responded with precision and wonderfully emotional playing. Some of the most revelatory numbers were the lesser known ones: a sensuous "Arabian Dance" and a buoyant, slightly nostalgic "Anitra's Dance."
The evening opened with the orchestra's first performance of Kodaly's Concerto for Orchestra, premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1941. Both folkloric and urbane, it pitted celebratory brass flourishes and busy themes against poignant, romantic moods, including a soulful clarinet solo (Jonathan Gunn).
Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is one of the great orchestral canvases of the 20th century. Järvi's seating arrangement split the string sections on either side of the podium, putting the cellos in back, for full antiphonal effect.
The sonic effect was interesting - but the performance was electrifying. The winding, chromatic fugue that opened the work had a haunting color; the second movement, a scherzo, was energized, and included a tour de force of cascades of scales.
Go to this one.
The concert repeats at 11 am today and 8 pm Saturday. (513) 381-3300.