Saturday, November 11, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Mahler's Ninth riveting

Mahler's Ninth riveting
By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, November 11, 2006

Mahler's Symphony No. 9 is the composer's farewell to earthly things, a symphony written against the specter of his own impending death.

I'm not sure I've ever heard such an intensely dramatic reading of Mahler's Ninth as was performed by Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Music Hall Friday night. Prophetic in character (Mahler died before he could complete his Tenth), the symphony is a kind of culmination of all his previous symphonies - collages of the banal against the elevated, the grotesquely comical against the terrifying.

But unlike his other symphonies - and clearly apparent in Järvi's interpretation - the Ninth has an unrelenting desperation, as if the composer is shaking his fist at the heavens. It's not until the final moments, after an electrifying 80-minute journey of thundering outbursts, marches and vulgar waltzes, that man's struggle with his destiny comes to a serene conclusion.

For the second week, an expanded orchestra was on Music Hall's stage for another monumental survey.

The first movement of the Ninth has an autumnal feel, but Järvi's view was more bittersweet than nostalgic. From the outset, the music had a driving urgency. Järvi allowed little time to bask in brief moments of beauty, etching every accent, cut-off and sudden fortissimo in bold relief.

The two inner movements were vivid with detail. The first, an Austrian landler, was heavy, grotesque and exaggerated. The next, a "Rondo-Burleske," was obsessive and coarse, performed with such tension it seemed ready to snap. It was an intensely human, almost manic picture. Just when the music lingered on a beautiful reminiscence, the moment was overtaken and thrust ahead.

The musicians performed spectacularly, swept along through powerful brass moments contrasted against the most inward-looking themes. Special note goes to principal horn Elizabeth Freimuth and principal viola Marna Street for beautifully shaped contributions. The finale, which turns to resignation, unfolded through glorious buildups and heart-stopping sudden pianissimos. It was a universe of emotion, masterfully crafted.

Järvi's program was a mystical journey that opened with a contrasting view of the end of life: Messiaen's "L'Ascension: Quatre meditations symphoniques" - four radiant meditations on Christ's heavenly ascension.

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

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