Monday, April 23, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Cincinnati truly has it all

The Orange County Register


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Under music director Järvi, the 112-year-old orchestra gives an impressive performance.

By Timothy Mangan, Classical Music critic




The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which appeared on Friday night in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, was uplifting for tired ears.
Under its music director Paavo Järvi, this remarkable 112-year-old orchestra gave one of the most spellbinding concerts here in recent memory.
There are orchestras that are perhaps more impressive in their technical sheen and behemoth, resplendent tone. (We heard one here earlier this year: the New York Philharmonic.) But few can match the sheer verve and deep musicality of the Cincinnatians. The orchestra and its 44-year-old conductor, director since 2001, seem to have formed an uncommon bond.
The program itself was reason for delight – opening with an attention-grabbing recent work by Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür and closing with a neglected masterpiece, the Symphony No. 4, "The Inextinguishable," by Carl Nielsen. At solo time, Brahms' familiar Violin Concerto was played with such distinction by Leonidas Kavakos and the orchestra that no reasonable listener could mind hearing it again.
Järvi makes music with this ensemble in a friendly fashion. He seems to invite them to play, not dictate things. Self-aggrandizement doesn't appear to be his thing. He shows such an involvement in the progress of the musical narrative and such a concern for the telling detail that he has no time for glamorous poses. The orchestra responds to this commitment with enthusiastic playing from first chair to last. When these musicians really got going, they were feeling it. They rocked; they had fun.
The Cincinnati strings are a potent bunch, with a shiny ping in their sound as well as an athletic expressiveness. The woodwinds sing warmly. The brass section gets all excited without swamping its colleagues. Instrumental balances were at all times carefully and subtly gauged. A listener forgets about technical matters with this orchestra, though, because the music itself – its message, not its surface – remains the focus.
Nielsen's Fourth is a big musical battle. Its four interlinked movements are a clash of ideas and contrasts, of mixed messages and unsettled harmonies and strange instrumental combinations, and the dust doesn't settle until the end.
Järvi and his musicians laid into it as if it were a great adventure, like roller coaster riders raising their arms high and screaming gleefully. And like on a roller coaster, the fast stuff could be very fast, the slow stuff intensely anticipatory, but the view was clear at all times – they made it into a seamless ride.
Tüür's 1992 "Zeitraum" is also a battle of sorts. The composer calls it polystylistic, and he throws all sorts of things into the soup – minimalistic rhythmic grooves and chaotic blurs, booming sustained Cs and scat lines, Romantic melodies and dissonant eruptions. These elements play against one another on a kind of blank canvas, nudging and merging and bumping each other, like catalysts in a chemical reaction. It makes for a weird and fascinating drama, and the Cincinnatians played it elegantly.
Kavakos provided an unusually penetrating reading of the Brahms concerto. He savored the long line, coaxing it forward with an array of vibratos (and non-vibrato) and an ever- suave tone. His progress may have been leisurely, but it was also continuously gripping.
That's in part because he has a way of holding onto a note until the musical momentum almost forces him to the next one, like a storyteller who makes his listeners hang on every word. The Greek violinist is not nearly as well known as he should be – remember the name. Järvi and the orchestra followed his every move with uncommon lyrical grace.
At encore time, conductor and orchestra had a gear-shifting party with Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 6 and then luxuriated delicately in Sibelius' "Valse Triste." The concert, in sum, sent at least one listener home completely bowled over.

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