Saturday, January 21, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO and Järvi have merged a perfect match

Web problems delayed this wonderful review by the Cincinnati Post's Mary Ellyn Hutton (1/20/06):
Mid-course correction?

No way. In the arithmetic center of his contract in Cincinnati (through 2008-09), Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony are without doubt one of the finest musical partnerships to be found anywhere today.

This was made abundantly - almost alarmingly - clear Thursday night at Music Hall (alarming because the CSO needs to optimize its performance space, i.e. re-configure 3,516-seat Music Hall or move elsewhere).

It was a program well calculated to show off a symphony orchestra, with Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and Elgar's Enigma Variations.

Add pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor and it easily qualified as one of the not-to-miss concerts of the season.

Järvi got right to his task in the opening bars of the Britten, an instrumental "treatise" that, happily, stands alone (it was performed without a narrator). The theme, by Henry Purcell, rose up like a phalanx, made the rounds of each family of instruments, then split off into 13 kaleidoscopic variations, whose transparent, ever-changing colors Järvi summoned and defined brilliantly.

You could perceive every hue: side drum and double bass in the bassoon variation, woodwinds coaxing the double basses, the tuba counterbalancing the trombones. Järvi turned the percussion variation into a great big waltz, while the concluding fugue served as the boisterous backdrop for theme's triumphant return.

Elgar's Enigma - to be recorded by Telarc with The Young Person's Guide and Britten's Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes" - was equally rewarding. Conductor and player sensitivities were closely entwined here, from the hushed, silken exposition of the "enigma" theme to the distinctive features of the variations (musical "portraits" of Elgar's wife and friends).

There were passion and tenderness in "C.A.E" (C. Alice Elgar), cockeyed fun in "H.D.S.-P." (a musician friend) and much rushing about in "W.M.B. (man in a hurry). Violist Marna Street and cellist Eric Kim shone in "Ysobel" and "B.G.N.," the latter extra-poignant. It was the "Nimrod" variation, however, a tightrope walk of pacing, that took one's breath away. In many years of hearing this work, I have never heard it shaped so perfectly. Järvi took it from the faintest whisper to its fortissimo climax in one long, unbroken line, then took a long pause at the end to let the effect sink in.

Ohlsson's Schumann had everything, romantic flair in the opening Allegro, light-footedness in the Intermezzo, majesty in the finale. His big tone and sheer facility on the keyboard kept one involved throughout, despite the work's over-familiarity. He traced its drama with great presence and skill and it was easy to find oneself hanging on every note.

The crowd, which included quite a few young people (including a delegation of music students from Berea College in central Kentucky), demanded an encore and he obliged with one of his specialties, Chopin.

The Waltz in E-flat Major, Op, 18, was a treat - rollicking, suave and masterful.

Repeats are 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Music Hall.

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