Monday, March 26, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Violinist, CSO serve up a Serenade with love

Friday, March 16, 2007

By Mary Ellyn HuttonPost music writer

Leonard Bernstein wrote more than "West Side Story."
Violinist Vadim Gluzman made that abundantly clear with Bernstein's 1954 Serenade, "after Plato's 'Symposium' " Thursday night at Music Hall.
It was the second time the Israeli violinist has performed the Serenade with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The first was in 1999, his CSO debut.
His return, this time with music director Paavo Järvi, gave a special presence to the work. Gluzman inhabited it, not only on the violin but during rests, where he nodded and swayed in response to the music.
Paired with the Serenade on the first half was Samuel Barber's 1935 "Music for a Scene from Shelley" (absent from the CSO repertoire since 1942). Both were inspired by the ancient Greeks: Bernstein took his cue from Plato's "Symposium," Barber from Percy Bysshe Shelley's play "Prometheus Unbound."
Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 (1944) made up the second half of the program.
Plato's "Symposium" is a dialogue on the nature of love by guests at a fourth-century B.C. drinking party. Each of the Serenade's five movements is named for one or a pair of guests. Scored for violin, strings and percussion, the music is exquisitely tailored to each concept, from the meltingly sweet "Phaedrus" in praise of Eros (god of love) to the weighty, serious "Socrates," where love is expounded as the search for ultimate good (kudos to principal cellist Eric Kim for his lovely dialogue with Gluzman).
Järvi had fun with the brief, whimsical "Aristophanes" about a primordial three sexes (he, she and both) and the swift, cuttingly clinical "Erixymathus" (a doctor). "Agathon," celebrating the richness of love in all its guises, was impassioned and intense. The final "Alcibiades," introducing gatecrashers to the party, was Bernstein as jazzman, with a tramping, bluesy refrain.
Gluzman 33, played with elegance, precision and extreme tonal beauty. He and Järvi worked hand in glove, earning a warm ovation from the crowd, whom Gluzman delighted with a jazzy encore, "Broken Bow Medley," on all four strings at once.
Prokofiev's fifth, composed during the waning days of World War II, somehow conjures anatomical references like sinewy, big-boned and glandular. The CSO performance had all that, though for this listener the opening Andante needed a bit more grandeur.
Järvi was at his best in the second movement, a scherzo overflowing with sass, but always with a clarity akin to chamber music.
The Romeo and Juliet-like Adagio soared, turned dark and painful, then subsided in shudders of strings. By contrast, the finale was rollicking, high-spirited and kinetic, a flurry of activity splatting to a fortissimo end.
Barber's 10-minute "Scene" was suggested by a passage in Shelley's play about imploring the god of love to free Prometheus from his torment. It recalled Debussy, haunting and dark at the beginning, with undulating strings and a repeated four-note plaint that rose to an assertive climax. Visiting trumpeter Mark Ridenour of the Chicago Symphony and CSO principal hornist Elizabeth Freimuth shone in their solos.
The program repeats at 8 tonight and Saturday at Music Hall.

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