Friday, April 13, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO pursues a Nordic theme but with surprises

April 13, 2007

By Mary Ellyn HuttonPost music writer

Nordic was the theme of Thursday night's concert by Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony at Music Hall. Led by music director Paavo Järvi, the program had the familiar "one from column A, one from column B, one from column C" configuration. But there were surprises.
"Zeitraum" (1992), by Jarvi's fellow Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür, was a CSO premiere. Danish composer Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 4 ("Inextinguishable"), which Järvi conducted on its most recent CSO performance in 1999, had a touch of theater.
Most surprising of all was the Violin Concerto by Sibelius, direct from column A. Guest artist Pekka Kuusisto, 30, first Finn to win the Sibelius International Violin Competition, gave it a fresh approach, which, if not completely convincing, kept one keenly attentive. It was his CSO debut. Kuusisto's soft, vibrato-less opening was startling off the bat, as if he were skimming lightly over ice. His hyper-expressive playing involved frequent variations in tempo and dynamics, rendering his successful collaboration with Järvi and the CSO that much more amazing. Watching Kuusisto sway side to side and bob his dark blonde hair conjured the image of a punk/folk fiddler, as if he would at any moment let the violin slip down onto his chest. However, some of his effects were overly clipped and tended to dissipate in over-sized Music Hall. The second movement was the most successful, a gentle, songful effusion involving gorgeous dialogue with the CSO. Kuusisto carried economy of bowing to an extreme in the final movement, which he began with the very tightest articulation. He tossed off virtuosic passages with abandon, disregarding a lot of notes in the process. Interestingly, much of the beauty of the concerto, here as elsewhere, lay in the orchestral passages, where Järvi brought out lines and colors with a painterly hand. Eccentric or not, Kuusisto's performance clearly pleased the audience, who awarded him a standing ovation and sparked an encore, a whispered, but very musical Adagio from Bach's Violin Sonata in G Minor.
Given its U.S. premiere by Järvi and the Chicago Symphony last spring, Tüür's "Zeitraum" is big, brash and percussion-rich. Musical time is Tüür's premise ("Zeitraum" means ""time period") and he pits flurries, eddies and assaults by various instrumental groups against each other and a more or less static background, announced with a bang by a low C on trombone and bassoon. Squiggles, oscillations, snatches of melody, tone clusters and patches of minimalist repetition interact, and there are passages recalling Arvo Part and Lepo Sumera
Järvi and the CSO presented it convincingly, and it was an apt pairing with the Nielsen, whose title and conception also have to do with time.
In Nielsen's Fourth, it is life that is timeless, forever renewing itself and "inextinguishable." Life involves strife, conveyed musically in the finale where two sets of timpani fight to the finish. Järvi repeated a dramatic touch from 1999 by having timpanist Richard Jensen, dressed in street clothes, dash to the stage from the audience and commandeer the second set of timpani. Jensen was placed in the foreground to distance him from principal timpanist Patrick Schleker.
Järvi crafted a stunning performance, soaring and assertive in the opening Allegro, cheerful in the jaunty Poco allegretto which showed off the CSO winds. The suddenly serious Adagio featured heartrending strings, eerie pizzicato, doubled by timpani, and winds sounding like alarms in the distance. The final Allegro took off on skittering strings for a tumultuous, life-affirming conclusion.
Järvi encored with a kicky Hungarian Dance No. 6 by Brahms. He and the CSO will perform the Nielsen and Tüür on their tour of Southern California.
The concert repeats at 11 a.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall.

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