It was a choice program that Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi set before his audience Thursday night at Music Hall. Choice for being all-20th century music (including a CSO premiere) and choice for bringing the phenomenal pianist Stewart Goodyear back to town.
Just 27, Goodyear was a knockout in Bartok's Concerto No. 2, a Magyar-flavored showpiece that shows no mercy for soloist or orchestra.
Indeed, by the end of the concert, it would have been appropriate for every member of the CSO to take a separate bow, for their mettle was shown repeatedly during the evening.
Järvi opened with Insula deserta by Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür, a nine-minute work for strings. Tüür, who headed a progressive rock band in Estonia during the 1970s, is a musical omnivore who has made it a point to try to reconcile erudition and intuition.
His works are highly individual and expressive, drawing upon a wide range of compositional techniques.
Insula deserta (Deserted Island) sometimes sounds minimalist, but it is spiced with dissonance and coloristic variety.
Järvi conjured it from nowhere in the soft, high shimmer of violins which went "out of focus" by twisting simultaneously sharp and flat. Smooth-as-silk harmonics were heard as melodic lines emerged.
The work built to a peak of dissonance, then subsided. There was a furry of pizzicato, the rugged sound of basses bowing over their bridges and a soft, downward glissando to the final D-minor chord.
The CSO winds, brass and percussion got their turn in the first movement of the Bartok, which omits strings. They were tit for tat with Goodyear, who sent up volleys of notes with a merry little tune embedded within.
The slow movement began with soft, muted strings, placid as a lake in the moonlight. Goodyear's big, muscular solo sounded in dialogue with timpani rolls, and he took off like lightning in the scherzo-like mid-section.
The finale had a barbaric sound, from the aggressive bass drum and timpani to Goodyear's flashy, knuckle-breaking solos. Kudos to timpanist Patrick Schleker and Marc Wolfley on bass drum.
Shostakovich's Sixth is one of his lesser known symphonies, but for no good reason, because in just three movements (30 minutes), you can meet him in all his moods.
The first (slow) movement is the tragic Shostakovich, with a big broad main theme and a fragmentary counter-theme suggesting trumpet calls from a distant battlefield.
Solo work by principal players was superb, punctuated by vivid points of dark and light in the CSO - "black" tam-tam and harp, shimmering celesta trills.
A sting of horn led to the final, soft whimper of violins.
Clarinetist Jonathan Gunn's raucous E-flat clarinet introduced the Allegro, which literally spun out of orbit in a snarly, downward spiral of winds at the end.
Then it was off to the races in the six-minute finale (Presto), which sounded like a ballet score complete with galop-style theme (a kind of reverse of the first movement trumpet calls) with oompah accompaniment. Järvi built it to a pounding, high-spirited end, snapping sideways toward the audience on the last beat.
Repeat is 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall. Tickets are $17.75-$73.75, $10 for students, half-price for seniors at (513) 381-3300 or visit www.cincinnatisymphony.org on the Web.
Mary Ellyn Hutton's website is Music in Cincinnati.