Saturday, September 22, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Flutist brings artistic vitality to Mozart work

September 22, 2007

Cincinnati Post

By Mary-Ellyn Hutton

Not a bad mix, Mozart and Bartok, both of which got special treatment Friday morning at Music Hall.

Guest artist with Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony was flutist Sharon Bezaly, who put both artistry and showmanship into Mozart's Concerto No. 2 in D Major and Andante in C Major, K.315.

After intermission, Jarvi and the CSO delivered a superlative performance of the Bartok, finer even than their Telarc recording, if only because it could be savored live in Music Hall.

Jarvi opened with a keenly dramatic Overture to "Fidelio," an echo of last week's CSO season opener, which featured music by Beethoven (and perhaps an afterglow as well to Jarvi's cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen on tour this summer).

Israeli-born Bezaly (a resident of Sweden) grabbed a mike as she walked onstage to introduce the Mozart Concerto. The cadenzas, she explained, were by contemporary Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, not Mozart (whose cadenzas for the concerto have been lost). A demonstrative player, she swayed to the music during the orchestral sections, projecting both a warm, engaging personality and a daunting technique.

Bezaly, 35, has mastered the skill of "circular breathing" (inhaling into the lungs, then storing air in the mouth to use as needed). This allows her to spin very long lines and lent an extra level of expression to her performance. Aho's cadenzas spanned the flute register, from low to very high, sometimes polevaulting in between. His music was quite compatible with Mozart's and caused no stylistic "jarring."

Bezaly's 24-carat gold Maramatsu flute (custom built for her) was beautifully matched to both the concerto and the C Major Andante, a single movement work perhaps written for a flute concerto Mozart did not complete. Coming after the concerto, it served as a kind of built-in encore. The cadenza here, a lovely one by Mozart himself, was a display piece on its own terms.

Bezaly, who has recorded Mozart's Flute Concertos and his Andante for BIS, signed CDs for a long line of admirers at intermission. (Unfortunately, her Mozart CD did not seem to be available.)

Bartok's 1944 Concerto for Orchestra is the closest thing the composer wrote to a symphony. Written on his death bed, it is full of reminiscence and reflection. As a refugee from wartime Hungary, Bartok, who was world famous as both a composer and a pianist (he performed the U.S. premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1 with the CSO under Fritz Reiner), spent his last five years practically penniless and unknown in New York City. The Concerto, his most popular work, is not merely a showpiece for orchestra but a repository of some of his deepest feelings.

Jarvi sought this dimension with the CSO Friday while leading a performance drenched in color and corporate virtuosity. The first movement, a solemn, almost creepy Andante followed by an aggressive Allegro vivace, featured sonorous strings (gutsy violins on their lowest string) and moments of stunning detail, such as the almost chamber music-like interaction between oboe and harp. The CSO's new seating arrangement, with the brasses along the back of the orchestra, allowed for clearer projection of individual instruments and sections.

Percussionist Bill Platt set a frisky tone on the drum for the second movement, "Game of Pairs," which featured pairs of instruments sounding at fixed harmonic intervals. The frolicky bassoons drew smiles, while the trumpets, muted and playing in seconds, felt like bee stings amid the swirling strings.

The Elegia, keystone and emotive center of the work, dripped with sorrow. Jarvi crafted an ineffable moment near the end when a faraway call by principal hornist Elizabeth Freimuth barely penetrated tremolo shudders in the strings.

The Intermezzo interrotto ("Interrupted intermezzo") was high hilarity tinged with bitterness as the famous quote from Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony broke in on the gorgeous viola theme (a hymn of Bartok's native country). An extra layer of irony resides in the Russian composer having based his theme on "Maxim's" from Lehar's "The Merry Widow," a favorite song of Adolf Hitler.

The helter-skelter finale yielded the field back to the strings, who after a brief respite, surged with the full orchestra towards the almost painful fortissimo conclusion.

Repeat is 8 tonight at Music Hall.

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