Saturday, November 12, 2005

CONCERT REVIEW: Orchestra shines in pair of works from Scandinavia

by Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, November 12,2005

What was the duck from Prokofiev's "Peter in the Wolf" doing in Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 6 at Friday night's Cincinnati Symphony concert at Music Hall?

And that flip little waltz? And the quick time a la Gilbert and Sullivan?

Nielsen's 1926 symphony has been called prescient, since it looked ahead to the stylistic diversity of today's post-modern composers. And music director Paavo Jarvi had a great time with it, as did the CSO.

It was one of two works by great Scandinavian masters on the program. The other was Sibelius' tone poem "Tapiola."

Guest artist in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto was Janine Jansen in her CSO and U.S. debut. Jansen, 27, not only revitalized the old war horse. She gave it a completely distinctive interpretation, one marked by animated tempos, shapely phrasing and a wide dynamic range.

The young Dutch artist commanded attention with her very first entrance, which was soft but intense, opening up later in big bravura passages. She found a sympathetic ally in Jarvi, who matched her musicality bar for bar. She literally made chamber music with the CSO at times, turning towards principal flutist Randolph Bowman and meshing her sound with his at the end of her first movement cadenza.

She was dramatic in the finale, where she gave gleeful emphasis to the big pizzicato chord that caps the introduction, and she played like a house afire at the end, which she took at an almost unbelievable clip. Though she received prolonged applause and a standing ovation, she declined an encore.

Nielsen's Sixth is a challenging work, a sometime roller-coaster ride with lots of technical hurdles. The orchestra pulled it off admirably despite its half-century absence from the CSO repertoire.

Subtitled "Sinfonia semplice" ("Simple symphony"), it is anything but, and Nielsen's appellation was probably not meant to be taken seriously. It begins congenially enough with the sweet sound of the glockenspiel and a pastoral sounding theme. Clouds gather quickly, however, and the movement climaxes on a big, screaming dissonance that subsides into a forlorn repetition of the opening theme.

The second movement Humoresque is scored for an odd ensemble of percussion and winds, including triangle, snare drum and glockenspiel, ably wielded by Marc Wolfley, David Fishlock and Bill Platt, respectively. This is where Prokofiev's duck (not composed until 1938) is heard in a passage for clarinet, and principal trombonist Cristian Ganicenco gave his rude glissandos real attitude.

The third movement, "Preposta Seria," gave the lie to all the humor surrounding it, with intense outpourings by the strings. Principal bassoonist William Winstead sounded the jolly theme of the finale, a variations movement where Nielsen pulls out the stops. Two orchestras seemed to battle it out at one point, and the waltz broke into the barrage like an errant butterfly

A sudden fanfare signaled the approaching end which was punctuated by a thumb-nosing low B-flat in the bassoon.

"Tapiola" (1926) was the last work Sibelius was to write before falling silent for the last 30 years of his life. Jarvi gave it a masterful interpretation. Named for the god of the forest in Finnish mythology, the 20-minute work casts a spell like none other. Winds slice through the trees (flute and piccolo), the earth moans (four-part violas) and there are plenty of creepy-crawly things about. The strings blew up a formidable gale toward the end, which lengthened into three long major chords, majestic and still.

The CSO concert repeats at 8 tonight and 3 pm Sunday at Music Hall.

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