Monday, April 23, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Symphonic proof that music is 'Inextinguishable'

Los Angeles Times

April 23, 2007
By Mark Swed, Times Staff Writer

Paavo Järvi leads Cincinnati's finest in a rousing performance of Carl Nielsen's work. Too bad so few heard it.

Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, given a riveting performance by the Cincinnati Symphony on Friday night at Orange County's Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, is titled "The Inextinguishable."Things weren't looking good for the Danish composer when he wrote this amazing score between 1914 and 1916. Europe had all but collapsed in its attempt to destroy itself with World War I. Nielsen's marriage was on the rocks. Although one of the 20th century's symphonic greats, he was increasingly viewed, by a grim Copenhagen intellectual elite, as an irritant.
The Fourth is his epic, rousing and often quite weird I'll Show You. "Music is Life and, like it, is inextinguishable," he wrote in the score's preface. So, he put it to the test.He wrote peculiar, pliable folk-songish themes that permeated the four movements by often perversely polluting the harmonies. In the last movement, he set two pairs of timpani at war with the orchestra. Coming from both sides of the stage, their pounding suggests mortar rounds. But victory is at hand. The brass rebuilds a melody, and with strings swirling, the winds throw sonic confetti.The Cincinnati Symphony chose an interesting moment to take this piece on tour. The orchestra is old (founded 112 years ago) and excellent. The current music director, Paavo Järvi, began his first season three days after Sept. 11. He is a soulful conductor. The bond between this Estonian (son of Neeme Järvi, currently music director of the New Jersey Symphony, and older brother of the audacious, more pop-oriented conductor Kristjan Järvi) and Cincinnati's players and audience is said to have been instantaneous.The performances Friday — which included Erkki-Sven Tüür's "Zeitraum" (Time-Space) and the Brahms Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos as soloist — were excellent. Paavo Järvi has built upon the orchestra's European tradition of warm, autumnal, rich sound but given it more bite.Under him, the orchestra has also produced a series of recordings for Telarc — some, sumptuously recorded in Super Audio CD, that sound almost too good to be believed. In the acoustically adjustable Segerstrom, where the sound chambers were in a mostly closed position to give the hall less resonance, the evidence gave no lie to the CDs. But despite being one of the few American orchestras regularly to record for a major commercial label, Cincinnati is said to have box-office woes at home.It certainly had them in Costa Mesa. Segerstrom may be in its first season, but it appears no attraction. I've not happened upon it full since opening night. On Friday, there were many empty seats, although that was good news for an unquenchable Nielsen enthusiast. Plenty of $200 box seats — the best vantage point for timpani tripping — were available for nabbing after intermission. That's right. $200!"Zeitraum" was written in 1992 and is the breakthrough orchestral work of a former Estonian rocker who has been trying to build what he calls a "metalanguage." His can be a noisy, angry music that forces tonal and nontonal styles into conflict. "Zeitraum" makes a lot of noise and gloomily comes to no conclusion.Since "Zeitraum," Tüür has branched out and written even more ominous multistylistic music. His 1998 Violin Concerto is particularly impressive, and perhaps that is the piece Kavakos should have attempted rather than the Brahms.The young Greek soloist is technically superb and played difficult music effortlessly. But his sleek tone is suited for more modern music or the Baroque. Whether he or Järvi chose the slow tempos, the audience had no way of knowing. But the snail's pace gave Cincinnati's gorgeous string section the opportunity to dig in deeply and articulate with powerful authority — too powerful, I'm afraid, for Kavakos' chamber-like subtlety.The performance of Nielsen's symphony, on the other hand, was an example of power perfectly directed. Segerstrom is a hall that has already hosted great orchestras. But neither the New York Philharmonic barreling through Beethoven's "Eroica" nor even the irrepressible Kirov playing Shostakovich had quite the visceral excitement of Cincinnati's "Inextinguishable."The playing certainly had something to do with this. Järvi's enthusiastic conducting had a lot to do with it.In an age more at home with Shostakovich's self-pitying, Nielsen's triumph is all the more gripping. He doesn't, by the way, say that man is inextinguishable. Just nature.

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