Friday, November 10, 2006

DVD captures Järvi's post-9/11 debut

DVD captures Järvi's post-9/11 debut
By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, November 10, 2006

Five years ago on Sept. 11, while Paavo Järvi was leading his first rehearsal as the 12th music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the unthinkable was happening.

Thousands were killed when planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Now the orchestra has released "The First Concert: September 2001," its first-ever DVD, covering Järvi's inaugural concert weekend.

Occurring just days after 9/11, it was perhaps the most subdued welcoming of a music director in the orchestra's history. The scheduled soloist, cellist Truls Mork, was stranded in Norway. Instead of the planned concerto, the conductor substituted Samuel Barber's sorrowful Adagio for Strings, dedicated, he said, "to the honor and memory of those who perished."

Although the DVD doesn't capture the human emotions that were almost palpable that night, it records the legacy of a distinguished ensemble that, through music, transcended one of the most horrific moments in our nation's life.

If you attend the Cincinnati Symphony concerts, it might seem odd to see musicians who are now gone performing prominent solos, such as principal horn Robin Graham. Others, such as former principal timpani Eugene Espino, are now deceased.

That said, these are visceral performances magnificently filmed by Brandenburg Productions, the company that has repeatedly taped symphony and Pops concerts in Music Hall to air on PBS.

There is an expansive view of Music Hall from the gallery, with its glimmering chandelier, and several shots of the full house. But most of the camera angles focus - quite creatively - on the musicians and the conductor, against acoustical towers that are aglow with colored lighting.

Järvi's face - at first tense, later relaxed but always engaged in the music - is seen in a way an audience rarely sees it.

The program opens with the world premiere of American composer Charles Coleman's Streetscape, a piece written in New York before 9 / 11, but which, in an eerie coincidence, has an explosive cutoff followed by a mournful cello solo.

Järvi leads a nuanced performance of Debussy's La Mer. But it is Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 that gets the most enthralling performance. One can admire the explosive power of the brass, Espino's split-second precision on timpani and the strings' edge-of-your-seat playing. Järvi galvanizes his players athletically, but one can also observe his attention to the winds to create the orchestral color he desires.

There is no commentary, except for the dedication before Barber's Adagio, which concludes the DVD. The sound is clear, but its quality will only be as good as your home system.

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