Friday, March 17, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Concerto sets the tone for CSO

After reading this glowing review by the Cincinnati Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand, I think you just might want to book some tickets for Saturday's repeat performance pronto! :-)
It could be the most fiendishly difficult piano concerto on the planet. But Thursday night with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Stewart Goodyear turned in an Olympian performance of Bartok's punishing Piano Concerto No. 2.

With Paavo Järvi on the podium, it was an evening of discovery that held one gripped from start to finish. The rarely heard Bartok concerto was the centerpiece of a program that opened with the orchestra's first performance of Insula deserta (Deserted Island) by Erkki-Sven Tuur and ended with Shostakovich's lesser-known Symphony No. 6.

Goodyear, a 27-year-old Toronto native, wields not only a big technique, but also substantial musicianship.

In the first movement, Bartok's percussive chords are relentless, yet the pianist held his own against the brilliant brass and percussion of the orchestra, and forged ahead with explosive energy. His playing was red-blooded but also amazingly clear. Only once did the music become so breathless it threatened to run away with him, but he managed to rein it in. Järvi kept textures pointed through the fast and furious moments.

The slow movement was a gorgeous example of Bartok's "night music" - atmospheric and full of mystery, with muted, cool tones in the strings and a breathtaking sonority in the piano. The unusual combination of timpani and piano (guest timpanist Patrick Schleker) added drama.

The pianist hunched over the keyboard in the work's presto section, with its tricky repeating notes and hand crossing, projecting fearlessness through some of the most treacherous writing ever penned.

He took off like a rocket in the finale, punctuated by pounding timpani, and hurtled through phenomenal passages like there was no tomorrow. The orchestra provided supercharged support.

The program opened with Estonian composer Tuur's "Insula deserta" of 1989, one of the most beautifully crafted pieces I've heard from the 20th century. A lucid "arch" form made it immediately accessible.

For strings only, it began with the desolate sound of soft, high harmonics, moving into sections of post-minimalist repetitions and frenzied intensity. Järvi calculated its ebb and flow with a wonderful feel for this music, and the string sound was inviting and never harsh.

The sparse - but youngish - crowd gave it a warm reception.

Shostakovich's Sixth is one of his most unusual symphonies. It's not generally associated with wartime or political statements, but, opening with a massive slow movement, it echoes the bleak times in which it was composed (1939), and its final two movements are driven and sardonic.

Järvi emphasized the interior quality of the opening "largo," phrasing expansively, with horn calls soaring out in broad strokes and a full-bodied sound in the strings. It was reflective and at times, deeply emotional.

The final two scherzos were simply electrifying. The second movement featured spectacular "drumming" by the timpanist, chortling in the winds and tumultuous climaxes. The third was a pointed, driving feat performed in one big flourish.

Järvi flung his arms up at cut-offs, crouched for sudden drops and urged his players on in a spectacular show of energy. The orchestra, once again, turned in a remarkable performance that ended in cheers.

To hear such music making on a weekly basis is indeed a rare treat.

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


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