Sunday, April 08, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO's emotive Berlioz draws roar of approval

March 26, 2007

By Mary Ellyn Hutton Post music writer

You might hear it in a stadium or a basketball arena, but the roar that went up at the end of The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's performance of Berlioz' "Symphonie fantastique" was out-of-the-ordinary for Music Hall.
It was unanimous and sustained, and, when the crowd refused to stop, CSO music director Paavo Järvi led a fitting encore, the "Rakoczy March" from Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust."
The concert was a huge success, with the hall full enough to sell out most concert halls, here or in Europe. Music Hall's size, on the other hand, contributed to the power and atmosphere of the performance.
Oboist Lon Bussell performed his part of the shepherds' dialogue in "Scene in the Country" from the hallway outside the upper gallery, giving it a truly faraway sound. Similarly, it was like real thunder in the distance when a second set of timpani sounded forebodingly from the wings.
Jarvi's "fantastique" was direct, hyper-emotive and probably the most realistic this listener has ever heard. Written in response to Berlioz's real-life infatuation with actress Harriet Smithson, it depicts a lovesick musician tormented by means of a musical idée fixe - a recurring theme - of his beloved. Järvi and the CSO acted as one, with a conviction and response time conducive to the highest level of music-making (they will perform it on tour in California in mid-April).
Snarly horns, drooping winds and a slow, prayer-like ending marked the opening "Reveries, Passions," while runaway swirls and Doug Lindsay's carnival-like cornet characterized "A Ball."
"A Scene in the Country" opened with fresh, cool strings before turning dark and ominous. "March to the Scaffold" was relentless and raw, with savage brasses and grotesque, chortling bassoons.
The final "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath" slithered in softly, clarinetist Jonathan Gunn's cackly E-flat clarinet representing the beloved as a mocking hag. The concluding round dance and Dies Irae (with offstage bell) joined in a brawl to the finish, with almost painful string effects (bowing on the bridge and tapping with the stick of the bow) and a long-held, fortissimo chord.
Guest artist was pianist Piotr Anderszewski in an exquisite performance of Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3. Anderszewski voiced lines with amazing clarity, sometimes tailoring his sound to that of the accompanying instruments, as in the Adagio religioso, where he matched the piccolo's sharp, bright sound on the high keys of the piano. The outer movements exuded good humor, charm and a welcome perfusion of Hungarian flavor.
Järvi opened with a picture postcard reading of Smetana's tone poem, "The Moldau." He indulged in some of his most picturesque conducting here, with flowing, dipping motions, pointed accents and sudden, hands-at-his-sides stops to signal a fall off in dynamics. The work's rustic wedding (polka), water sprites (silvery, muted strings) and turbulent St. John's Rapids were expertly conveyed.

No comments: