Saturday, March 11, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Jarvi leads CSO and chorus in powerful Mahler

From Mary Ellyn Hutton's review for the Cincinnati Post (3/11/06):
Jarvi leads CSO and chorus in powerful Mahler
By Mary Ellyn Hutton

Redemption for all is the message of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), performed by music director Paavo Jarvi, the Cincinnati Symphony and May Festival Chorus Friday night at Music Hall.

All, perhaps, except the two audience members whose cell phones went off during the performance, one complete with Bach Minuet. That latter was particularly jarring as it happened during a rest just before offstage horns signaled the dawning of the Day of Judgment in the finale.

No matter. It was but a momentary interruption, and by the time Jarvi had reached the work's heaven-storming conclusion, with its sizzle of tam-tam and clangor of bells, the audience was swept up in, to use a word currently in vogue, rapture.

Jarvi's traversal of the work was his own, deeper and more self-assured than most this listener has heard.
The symphony deals with death, Mahler's favorite subject, and one can read a life story into it. The first movement is a gigantic funeral march, the second a gentle interlude followed by a sardonic scherzo, a luminous and searching fourth movement where the human voice is finally heard, and then a finale filled with cosmic drama. Jarvi searched out all the tenderness, hope and love Mahler put into it, rejecting the bone-chilling hysteria sometimes imposed on it.

It began ferociously enough with a swath of angry cellos and basses, accented by a death rattle in the contrabassoon. By contrast, the gentle second theme floated upward like soft incense. Jarvi signaled some of the explosive moments two handed, like wielding a baseball bat, and he found just the right tone of lament before the final downward cascade.

Jarvi utilized the break specified in the score by leaving the stage and returning with the soloists, Finnish mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi and American soprano Latonia Moore.

The Andante had an otherworldly quality, like a moment out of time. The soft, dovelike opening conjured childhood, the agitated mid-section adulthood, followed by the return of the opening melody in charming, disarming pizzicato, flavored with harp.

The scherzo utilizes one of Mahler's "Wunderhorn" Songs ("Fischpredigt," about St. Anthony preaching to the fish, sung by baritone Matthias Goerne with the CSO last fall). Jarvi put lots of detail into it, but with less bite than is sometimes heard. It set up a violent contrast, however, with the air-raid like outburst and sharp timpani reports near the end.

Paasikivi had the perfect voice for "Urlicht" ("Primal Light"), the encounter with an angel that hints at the resolution in the finale. The CSO wove gorgeous chamber music-like textures around her creamy alto, which never turned overripe.

The finale began with a mighty orchestral surge followed by a 30-minute apocalypse that kept the audience riveted. The movement's desolate moments were just that, with fragments of the "Dies Irae" signaling the serious business at hand. Trombonist Cristian Ganicenco sounded a burnished resurrection theme, and the offstage brass and percussion were synchronized perfectly with the orchestra onstage.

Graves opened with a rumble that could have raised the bones interred beneath Music Hall and after a chaotic resurrection march, Randolph Bowman and Joan Voorhees sounded the Earth's last, lonely birdcalls. In one of the great moments in music, the chorus entered on "Auferstehen" ("You will rise again") with a softness and clarity that were mesmerizing, Paasikivi and Moore joining in an ecstatic "Glaube" ("Believe"). Jarvi built the mighty conclusion carefully and exquisitely, the men's voices soaring in affirmation before the all-stops-pulled conclusion, where he asked for all his forces could give and got it.

Repeat is 8 tonight at Music Hall.

Mary Ellyn Hutton's website is Music in Cincinnati.

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