Friday, May 11, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Cleveland Orchestra is extraordinarily sleek in Paavo Jarvi's hands

The Beacon Journal

Friday, May 11, 2007

Prokofiev a wild ride with guest conductor

By Elaine Guregian, Beacon Journal arts and culture critic

The conductor Paavo Jarvi was in the news recently with an announcement about his contract renewal at the Cincinnati Symphony. He has committed to being music director there through the 2010-11 season, after which he'll have what's called an evergreen contract, allowing year-by-year renewals. The editor of observed that it's the kind of arrangement conductors like to make when they want to leave themselves available for bigger jobs.
Jarvi, born in 1962 in Estonia, is at an exciting point in his career. Besides the music directorship in Cincinnati, where he has been since 2001, he is music director of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie. Then there's all the guest conducting. He debuted with the Vienna Philharmonic in November 2006 and will debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra next season.
Believe it or not, Thursday night was the first time Jarvi had conducted in Severance Hall. He made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom in 2004. On Thursday, his rapport and connection with the group made it seem like they had spent much more time together.
A rip-roaring performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 capped off Thursday's concert. The program opener, Sibelius' Night Ride and Sunrise, is an unusually spare work for the composer, though the plaintive, foreboding harmonies stamp it as Sibelius. The orchestra played well, though it could not turn one of Sibelius' lesser works into a a major one.
The orchestra's principal horn, Richard King, gave Richard Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 2 a workout, delivering its fanfares and soaring melodies in a way that let you appreciate once again this musician's resplendent tone and scrupulous musicianship. This late work made a good lead-in to the orchestra's two weeks focusing on Strauss at the end of the season. The final piece of the season, a performance of Strauss' opera Der Rosenkavalier, is something to look forward to.
In the meantime, what a ride Jarvi and the orchestra delivered in Prokofiev's technicolor Symphony No. 5. Triumphant trumpet solos, the menacing rat-a-tat of the snare drum and a throbbing bass line are qualities that make this score riveting, particularly when played with the drive, precision and extraordinary sleekness of the Cleveland Orchestra under Jarvi.
This conductor doesn't draw attention to himself on the podium. He gets the job done brilliantly well with a minimum of fuss. But he grinned every now and then during the Prokofiev, seemingly delighted with the perfectly calibrated, on-the-edge response from the orchestra. The crackling energy, the stinging little musical gestures devilishly well delivered, spoke of an orchestra that felt entirely comfortable in Jarvi's hands.

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