Friday, January 20, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Familiar sounds, uncommon offering

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand was there last night and offers this review (1/20/05):
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's program Thursday night may have been familiar to many concertgoers in Music Hall. But there was nothing ordinary about this performance led by Paavo Järvi with guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and Elgar's Enigma Variations were given performances that elevated them from the mundane to the magical. And in Ohlsson's hands, the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor was simply stunning for its warmth and spontaneity.

Ohlsson's career was launched 36 years ago when he won the Chopin International Piano Competition. A big man, he towers over the keyboard. Yet his touch is elegant, whether finding weight and depth in each chord or flying through pianistic figures with gossamer lightness.

The pianist communicated a sense of joy of discovery in each note of the Schumann Concerto. The first movement evolved almost like chamber music, with wonderful give-and-take between piano and winds. A dream-like episode between piano, clarinet (Jonathan Gunn) and cellos was enchanting; Ohlsson lingered on it longer than usual, for a moment of immense beauty.

His first movement cadenza matched bravura with poetry, but this concerto is not about flash. Ohlsson played the slow movement with great affection, which made the cello theme more glowing and nostalgic when it arrived. The finale was exuberant, light and quick, and Järvi and the orchestra made ideal partners.

The pianist brought down the house with his encore, Chopin's Grand Valse Brilliante, Op. 18 - a piece every piano student plays, but never like this.

The source of the theme for Elgar's Enigma Variations is an enigma. But each of the 14 variations is a caricature of a person Elgar knew.

Järvi captured the disparate personalities while making it a cohesive, unified piece that evolved in one arc. He led vividly, whether drawing out the theme in a broad legato sweep or shaping a quirky, staccato passage in the winds.

The musicians gave a truly inspired performance. The seventh variation, for timpani and brass, unfolded in a spectacular display of adrenalin. The Nimrod Variation was veiled in extraordinary color and brought to a moving summation.

The program opened with Britten's Young Person's Guide, a showpiece for all the instruments of the orchestra. Järvi brought out the work's quirkiness, and the musicians played it with flair. Both will be recorded for Telarc.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today and Saturday. (513) 381-3300.

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