By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, January 28, 2006
Serene, majestic, characterful. All would describe Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 as performed by Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Friday night at Music Hall.
Also revelatory, for Bruckner is an acquired taste for most listeners. His symphonies top out at at least an hour and are not calculated for short attention spans. "Absolute" music, i.e. without extra-musical references, they are scored for the usual complement of strings, winds and brasses, with little or no percussion.
None of this fazed the small but appreciative audience, which rose with shouts of "bravo" as the final full-bore chorale echoed through the hall.
It was a triumph for Jarvi, who showed great empathy for the work, and for the CSO, which turned his vision into a performance of the first magnitude. They played with clarity, precision and what is coming to be a Jarvi trademark, the ability to concentrate overwhelming power into the softest moments.
This was clear at the outset, in the soft descending pizzicato in basses and cellos and the gentle overlay of harmonies by the upper strings. There were many such moments throughout, because the work reaches its apex only in the finale.
Jarvi's shaping of the individual movements, from the smallest details great archways of sound, was thoughtful and compelling. There was a sense that this was a journey, and there would be a great reward at the end, but the stops along the way were always engrossing.
Perhaps most remarkable was the range of color he drew from the strings: warm, variegated and frankly Wagnerian at times, as in the opening movement where the flute repeats the pizzicato figures against the strings, and in the slow movement where the violins waxed ravishing on the first statement of the main theme.
Bruckner means brass, and the CSO brasses shone mightily - at the end of the slow movement where all the pieces finally come together, during raucous outbursts in the Scherzo and in the soaring final chorale, haloed at the start by an echo of strings..
Jarvi took pains to give the music an earthy quality when invited, as in the Scherzo, where he slowed the tempo to suggest a galumphing village dance. As for intellectual rigor, the complex counterpoint of the last movement got stellar treatment, reminding this listener that it was Mozart's birthday (he wrote a comparable movement to end his "Jupiter" symphony).
Guest artist in her CSO debut was French hornist Marie Luise Neunecker, who gave a warm, engaging performance of Richard Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major. Composed when Strauss was 78, it shares some of the nostalgia of his "Four Last Songs" but also has an occasional impish quality reminiscent of his early tone poem "Till Eulespiegel."
Neunecker, a former orchestra principal, worked expertly with Jarvi and the CSO, and there was some lovely dialogue with the clarinet in the opening Allegro. Her expressive tone color ranged from big and burnished to soft and veiled, and she was as nimble as a deer on the run in the delightful hunting horn Rondo, where she was joined at the end by her CSO horn compatriots.
Repeat is 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall.