Monday, March 26, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Violinist, orchestra beautiful together

Friday, March 16, 2007


Another week, another sensational soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Music Hall.
On Thursday, it was Vadim Gluzman, a Ukraine-born Israeli violinist, who put his luxuriant sound to work in Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade, after Plato's 'Symposium.' " But that wasn't the only thing that impressed in this 20th-century program. There was also the high-voltage performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 under the baton of Paavo Järvi.
Gluzman plays a 1690 Stradivarius that once belonged to Leopold Auer, the great teacher of "Golden Age" violinists such as Mischa Elman and Jascha Heifetz. Perhaps it should have been no surprise, then, that his big, relaxed sound, romantic slides and peerless expression should hearken back to those old-world masters.
Bernstein's inspiration for his "Serenade" was Plato's "Symposium," a philosophical discussion of love, among guests at a dinner party. Musically, it becomes a dialogue between violinist and orchestra, with touches that remind one of "West Side Story" and a swinging jazz finish.
Gluzman is not a showy musician, but his involvement and joy in the music communicated to the listener. From the first note, a phrase played alone, his sound was sweet and beautifully shaped, with a long, effortless line. There was an easy grace about the way he approached the music, even in the presto - a scintillating dialogue tossed back and forth between soloist and orchestra.
The slow movement was the work's heart, and Gluzman's lyricism and sweetness of tone was almost vocal. He lingered on the final high harmonic with stunning control.
The last movement, an oration by Socrates, is perhaps the most pictorial, with its imagery of drunken revelers interrupting the discussion. Here the violinist projected its range of moods wonderfully, and seemed to enjoy its jazz-filled moments. (He'll record it this summer, he said later.)
Järvi and the orchestra carried on a richly colored conversation with the soloist. The finale included a winning duet between Gluzman and principal cellist Eric Kim.
For an encore, Gluzman took apart (literally) his bow, inserted his violin between bow and strings and played a 1920s ditty that he described as "underground Russian jazz."
Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 formed the second half. The symphony's premiere in 1945 coincided with the victory of the Red Army. Unlike Shostakovich's wartime symphonies, this has an optimistic cast. Even though it has no program, you can't miss the rumbling drumrolls evoking, perhaps, distant cannons, and the relentless, driving march in the finale.
This was an exhilarating performance, and one with plenty of bite. Järvi led the opening in big sweeping gestures, going for a bright, heroic sound, and bringing out each detail in Prokofiev's wealth of melodies. Tempos were quick. The scherzo had unbelievable drive and energy, as if it was about to snap, and Järvi made the most of its dynamic contrasts.
The slow movement pitted intensely passionate moments against those of the most atmospheric serenity. There is no way to describe Järvi's march to the finish, other than hair-raising.
The musicians responded with playing that was precise and richly colored. They'll record it this week for Telarc.
The program opened with the orchestra's second-ever performance of Samuel Barber's "Music for a Scene from Shelley." Not as well known as his "Adagio for Strings," it has a kind of desolate beauty, and the orchestra captured its emotional quality beautifully.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today and Saturday. Tickets: 513-381-3300.

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