Friday, May 04, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO shines in season finale

Cincinnati Enquirer

May 4, 2007


More than 1,700 people stood and cheered before Paavo Järvi had conducted a note Thursday evening, at the news that his contract as music director has been extended to at least 2011.
Järvi's chemistry with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has never been better than it was on Thursday, when he led a glowing reading of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in F Major, "Pastoral," in one of the most inspiring performances of the season.
This season finale concert also included the world premiere of Charles Coleman's "Deep Woods," the result of a unique composer residency program, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen.
Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony is not in the heroic mode, but a serene painting of country life, with birds, a bubbling brook and a vivid cloudburst. Many conductors have put their stamp on this piece. But one would be hard-pressed to find a performance so spontaneous and played with such lyricism, unabashed joy and unforced beauty.
The string sound was glorious from the outset, and the winds spoke with character. Subtleties that might otherwise glide by were brought out wonderfully, such as the first movement's hunting horns or the deep bagpipe drones in the basses.
Järvi's tempos flowed along warmly and his phrasing was vivid. "Scene by the Brook" bubbled serenely, and the third movement was a rustic folk vignette, played with exhilarating energy. The storm came in a heaven-rending outburst, a spectacular show of power in the brass, yet it was all played with amazing control.
After that display, the return of the "Shepherd's Hymn" (oboist Shea Scruggs) was breathtaking.
The concert opened with New York-based composer Coleman's "Deep Woods," inspired by a painting by Charles Yoder. Coleman has a knack for capturing the mood of 21st century living. Edgy and compelling, it opened with bold gestures in timpani and brass, and the intensity seemed relentless.
Coleman's musical vocabulary included propulsive strings, urgent repetitions (he has minimalist influences), snatches of jazzy rhythms and colorful percussion. A slow section, a glimmering canvas of flute and harp, was like the calm after the storm, and stood out for its mysterious atmosphere.
The crowd approved and the composer took a bow.
Mustonen, 39, a pianist born in Helsinki, is a triple-threat musician who also conducts and composes. However, on Thursday, his view of Beethoven's C Minor Concerto seemed at odds with that of the conductor. Mustonen used a detached, at times too-brilliant touch, while Järvi drew only warmth from the orchestra. I found the pianist's flamboyant arm-waving a distraction, and sometimes it caused him to miss notes.
That said, he is a remarkable talent with much to say. His runs were delivered with high-voltage energy, and the first-movement cadenza unfolded in cascades of symphonic proportion.
At intermission, retiring musicians DeAnne Cleghorn, violinist, and Carlos Zavala, cellist, were honored for each serving more than 40 years.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today and Saturday. 513-381-3300 .

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