Saturday, January 28, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: A horn lover's paradise

By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, January 28, 2006

Composer Anton Bruckner is known for the heavenly length of his symphonies. On Friday, Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra clocked in at 75 minutes, but under the baton of Paavo Järvi, it was 75 minutes of power, emotion and discovery.

Friday's concert was something of a horn lover's paradise, with Bruckner's glorious brass-filled buildups, and the Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No. 2, featuring German horn virtuoso Marie Luise Neunecker.

Bruckner was an Austrian organist whose religious fervor and organlike chorale themes permeate his nine symphonies.

His Symphony No. 5 has an unsettled, almost schizophrenic quality; it never completes one thought before moving on to the next. Massive brass outbursts interrupt lyrical themes; great swells in the strings suddenly drop to nothing.

Järvi's view had tension and momentum, yet he also brought out the Austrian color that so many interpreters miss. In the first movement, a moment of tremolo strings set against flute evoked the countryside as beautifully as the landler (folk dance) in the third movement.

The work opened with an extraordinary atmosphere in the strings, and exploded into a powerful brass chorale. There was a transparency of texture, in which details sprang out, and every note was meaningful.

Bruckner can be repetitious - but Järvi never let the momentum sag. Indeed, its sheer unpredictability of quirkiness and power was riveting. The scherzo movement had a kind of fierce power simmering beneath the surface that alternated with Mahler-like moments of sunny lightness.

The musicians gave it their all, the winds phrasing with wonderful color, the horns glowing and the string ensemble shining. Richard Jensen's timpani rolls brought each movement to a stirring climax. There were multiple peaks and valleys before the final ascent, with the full power of the orchestra in all its sonic glory.

Opening the evening, Neunecker, who has based her career in Europe, made her debut in Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major.

Neunecker is a superb musician, whose tone glowed, and whose phrasing was peerless. She projected a beautiful line through Strauss' romantic themes.

The slow movement had a lovely autumnal quality, and the finale was rollicking. Järvi's orchestra was lush and full of character.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. (513) 381-3300.

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