Saturday, September 30, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Shining evening for CSO

Despite the loss of the week's original guest soloist, the Cincinnati Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand's review of last night's concert praises the playing of the young artist who stepped in on short notice:
Shining evening for CSO
By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, September 30, 2006

The saying goes that composer Anton Bruckner wrote the same symphony nine times, as conductor Paavo Järvi noted in his introduction to Bruckner's Symphony No. 6Friday night. That myth, and a canceled soloist, may have kept the crowds away from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert in Music Hall.

It's too bad, because, despite the odds, it turned out to be an exceptional evening. The brilliant American cellist Alisa Weilerstein stepped in for Truls Mork to play the Schumann Cello Concerto on a few days notice, and Järvi and the musicians made a case for Bruckner's Sixth that would rival even the most majestic recording.

At just 24, Weilerstein has already been tapped as one of America's most promising young stars. The Cleveland Institute of Music graduate is one of the most individual voices you'll ever hear on the cello, and she tackled Schumann's Concerto in A Minor with a mixture of assured virtuosity and a large dose of emotion.

Although beauty of sound is not the first thing one notices about her playing, Weilerstein is an expressive player who makes her cello speak in a soulful, almost vocal manner. Her performance was an emotional journey that seemed to echo the composer's tormented psyche, with a throbbing vibrato and freely rhapsodic phrases.

The orchestra's collaboration, though understated at first, richly underscored her playing.

Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 in A Major is one of the least played of his symphonies, but it may, in fact, be the most attractive. High drama (in brass and timpani) and rhythmic complexity are its hallmarks. Yet its appeal is a lyricism and intimacy one usually doesn't associate with the Austrian composer.

Järvi found this balance of light and dark, and the orchestra rose to the occasion with truly stunning playing. The opening "Maestoso" had powerful brass climaxes of great, organ-like sonorities, balanced by moments of beauty that at times echoed Mahler in character.

The heart of this work is the slow movement. Järvi gave it a deeply felt reading, with beautifully shaped phrases and luminous strings, enhanced by contributions from acting principal oboist Shea Scruggs.

The somewhat quirky scherzo, with its mixture of brass fanfares, timpani rolls, horn calls and ringing cut-offs, somehow all made sense. Järvi brought the work to summation in a finale that was driving yet spacious, and the grandiose brass sound was something to behold.

The conductor opened the program with a work by his countryman, Estonian composer Eduard Tubin, and spoke in pre-recorded "First Notes" about the composer who was a family friend. His Symphony No. 11, left unfinished at his death in 1982, was a fascinating work that echoed many influences, from Carl Nielsen to the Russians and even, perhaps, Holst's "The Planets." It featured bold assertions in brass and timpani, angular themes and surprisingly lush strings.

The program repeats at 8 p.m. today. Tickets: 513-381-3300.

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