Sunday, May 06, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: A fitting end to eventful year for Jarvi, CSO

May 5, 2007

Cincinnati Post

By Mary Ellyn Hutton Post music writer

The last notes heard on the Cincinnati Symphony's final concert of the season - to be repeated at 8 tonight at Music Hall - are principal hornist Elizabeth Freimuth's soft echo of the hymn of thanksgiving in Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastorale"), capped by an affirmative, fortissimo chord.
How fitting.
It has been quite a year and "quite a week," said CSO president Steven Monder in an announcement preceding the CSO concert Thursday evening at Music Hall. Music director Paavo Järvi, 44, will lead the CSO until at least 2011 under the terms of a contract extension ratified by the board of trustees Wednesday (renewals will be automatic thereafter, subject to mutual agreement). The crowd stood and cheered when the Estonian-born conductor took the podium, signaling its hearty approval and anticipation of more great music under his baton.
The concert served as a shining example of what he and the CSO have accomplished during the past six years. There was a world premiere - New York composer Charles Coleman's "Deep Woods" - a uniquely gifted guest artist, Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, and a canonic symphony, performed with the depth of insight and communication that have come to characterize Järvi and the CSO.
Proudly on display was the "Cincinnati sound," for the CSO has achieved a distinctive voice with Järvi. Rooted in the warm, Germanic tradition, it has stunning clarity and attention to detail, a wide range of expression, amazingly characterful winds (to name only the section most often in the spotlight), and the kind of coiled-spring power that can be unleashed maximally when called upon to do so.
All of this was evident in Coleman's "Deep Woods," a 15-minute work inspired by New York artist Charles Yoder's painting of the same name (be sure to see the digital photo on display in the lobby). Allegorically rich, it's kind of a sylvan "Streetscape," Coleman's tribute to New York premiered on Jarvi's inaugural concert in 2001.
The bustle and kinetic excitement of "Streetscape" are all there - the majestic stand of trees in the painting, dark against the light filtering through the bare trunks down below, also pulses with motion. So are the ebb and flow. Like "Streetscape," there is a clamorous opening, a beautiful, lyrical center and an optimistic, ebullient ending (victory of light over darkness?). This reviewer was struck by a literal echo of "Streetscape" in a surging, scalar figure in the horns, heard toward the end.
Coleman is a master of instrumental color (percussion have a field day), his musical ideas are vivid, and his characteristic multi-rhythms and contrasting harmonies engage each other and the listener completely. The work's propulsive, "minimalist" moments recall John Adams, but there is an urban flair and grit to it that is all his own. Järvi laid it out with great skill and the result was a vibrant sonic canvas.
The composer, who has spent five weeks in residence with the CSO this year, strode on for a well-deserved ovation.
Mustonen, who can certainly make music his own, gave the Beethoven concerto a gem-like sparkle that refracted brilliantly against Järvi's classically eloquent accompaniment. Ensemble was flawless and emotive moments shared. Also a composer and a conductor, Mustonen is fun to watch, with picturesque motions of his hands and body. He put drama in the first movement cadenza, tenderness in the Largo and a bit of sauce in the finale, drawing a warm response from the crowd.
Järvi calls Beethoven's "Pastorale" echt ("true") German, soulfully connected with nature and the inner being. Indeed, life coursed palpably through the work, from the soft, frolicsome beginning to the relentless storm breaking on the heels of the jolly, tipsy scherzo. Ensemble faltered a bit at one point in the first movement, perhaps from over-enthusiasm, but string sheen was lustrous everywhere.
"Scene by the brook" had a waltz-like flow and some very realistic avian winds (principal clarinetist Richard Hawley's cuckoo was aptly a-synchronous). Järvi let the final hymn, a majestic theme and variations, crest at just the right moment near the end.
Timpanist/players' committee chairman Richard Jensen gave beautiful tributes to retiring violinist DeAnne Cleghorn and cellist Carlos Zavala after intermission, another well-done moment on a very special concert.

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