Sunday, November 13, 2005

CONCERT REVIEW: Nielsen's 6th a riot

By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, November 12, 2005

Who knew that Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 6 could be so much fun?

At the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Friday night, Paavo Järvi re-introduced Nielsen's Sixth, in just the second performance by the orchestra since Thor Johnson gave its American premiere in 1957. Järvi knew how to sell this quirky number, one that had even the musicians grinning as they played.

Nielsen's Sixth capped a mostly Nordic program that included the stunning United States debut of 27-year-old Dutch violinist Janine Jansen in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and Sibelius' "Tapiola."

Nielsen's "Sinfonia semplice" (simple symphony) might better be labeled "the eccentric." The Danish composer's last symphony of 1924, it looks ahead, while seeming to make fun of the direction music is going. Serious passages dissolve into music for triangle, side drum and glissando trombone, and brass fanfares come out of nowhere.

Yet, despite its surprises, Järvi managed to make it all hang together, and the orchestra's playing was full of character. No recording could ever reveal the inside jokes of the second movement "Humoreske" so clearly as this performance. In the third movement, an intense fugue for strings, the ensemble has never seemed so refined.

Orchestral soloists shone, from a noble theme in the horns in the first movement, to the witty bassoon solo (William Winstead) that opened the fourth. It was all a wonderful discovery.

For the centerpiece, Jansen delivered an electrifying account of the Tchaikovsky. Not just another flavor of the week, it was clear from the first note that this is an artist with something to say. She's a risk-taker, who could stretch a slow passage and then dive into a diabolically difficult one like a rocket.

The sound she projected on her priceless 1727 "Barrere" Strad wasn't large, but it could be sweet or throaty, with each chameleon-like turn of a phrase. Although her first movement was not especially Russian-sounding, it was so spontaneous you had to hold your breath through the adrenalin-charged virtuosities.

She beautifully captured the pathos of the "Canzonetta," where her sound was almost vocal. The finale was mesmerizing and passionate, delivered with her bow and long hair flying.

Järvi gave her free rein and kept an ideal balance, and the good-sized crowd was on its feet.

"Tapiola" evokes the woods outside of Helsinki in the same way that "La mer" evokes the sea. Järvi cultivated a dark, rich sound in the strings and horns, and the orchestra responded with beautiful playing.

The concert repeats at 3 pm Sunday in Music Hall. Tickets: (513) 381-3300.

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