Friday, November 17, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Jarvi, CSO offer full program with empty moments

Jarvi, CSO offer full program with empty moments
By John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune, November 17, 2006

Paavo Jarvi won't win medals for putting together coherent symphonic programming, but at least his concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Thursday at Symphony Center gave patrons their money's worth.

To the originally announced bill of Kodaly, Gershwin and Lutoslawski works, the Estonian-born Jarvi added the American premiere of "Zeitraum" by his countryman Erkki-Sven Tuur, postponed from the previous month. The sometimes static, sometimes busy fields of melody and harmony trade on the tension created by two kinds of musical time, one moving quickly and kaleidoscopically, the other moving hardly at all.

The opening pages of "Zeitraum" — massive, portentous full-orchestra chords giving way to sputtering woodwinds, murky waves of violas and cellos and darting figures in the divided violins that are soon layered over those opaque waves — promise much that the derivative later pages fail to deliver.

Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F also proved disappointing, though not for any lack of sonic or musical excitement.

The soloist was the gifted British pianist and organist Wayne Marshall, who reimagined the score as an extended jazz improvisation, a perfectly defensible approach. Any interpreter less secure in the Gershwin idiom would not have dared what he attempted in the bluesy slow movement: a long, ornate cadenza of his own devising, not unlike something Gershwin himself might have dashed off at one of his famous soirees.

But while you had to admire the uncanny accuracy with which the pianist's pistonlike fingers tore through the outer movements, you had to wonder why on earth he chose such mercilessly fast tempos. Was it to pump up the crowd? If so, it inspired a tumultuous ovation. Not my idea of Gershwin.

The only pieces that belonged together were the concertos for orchestra by Zoltan Kodaly and Witold Lutoslawski, which served as bookends for Jarvi's generous program.

Kodaly's Concerto for Orchestra, written for the CSO's 50th anniversary and first performed here in 1941, is invented Hungarian folk music done up in the trappings of a Baroque concerto grosso, with plentiful instrumental solos adding to its exuberant spirit. The music is nowhere near as inspired as Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra, or, for that matter, countryman Bela Bartok's own later orchestral concerto. But it was good to hear it in Jarvi's rousing account.

The Lutoslawski remains the late Polish master's most popular orchestral work. One could only marvel at how the score's coloristic variety, impeccable craftsmanship and bracing vitality were reflected in the sweep, intensity and incisiveness with which the CSO players threw themselves into the score. Lutoslawski could have written it with the brassy bite of our orchestra in mind.


jvonrhein@tribune.com

The program will be repeated at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday; 312-294-3000.

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