Friday, September 21, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Järvi interprets Bartok

September 21, 2007

The Enquirer

By Janelle Gelfand


Paavo Järvi’s personal thoughts about Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” cast the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s performance this morning in a stunning new light.

In “First Notes,” projected on a large screen before the concert, Järvi remarked that the “Concerto for Orchestra” is a work with “so much heart and soul, that to treat it as just a brilliant masterpiece is absurd.”

So listening to it differently – as a personal evocation of the Hungarian composer looking back with emotion at the end of his life – was a revelation. On Friday morning, the orchestra sounded more spontaneous, visceral and precise than in their widely-hailed Telarc recording of the same piece.

The “Concerto for Orchestra” capped a program that included the debut of a virtuoso Israeli flutist, Sharon Bezaly, playing two gems for flute by Mozart, and Beethoven’s Overture to “Fidelio.” It’s unfortunate that only a small audience heard it.

There was something raw and heart-on-sleeve about Järvi’s reading of the “Concerto for Orchestra” this time around. The performance weighed biting, fierce outbursts in the outer movements against the extraordinary atmosphere of the “night music,” and every accent and detail came across vividly.

The first movement was intense and magnificently colored, from the depths of the basses to the ethereal flute motifs. The second movement, a showcase for pairs of instruments, was nicely balanced, despite the uneven brass chorale at its center. Bassoonists William Winstead and Hugh Michie added humor with their extroverted phrasing.

The heart of this work is the central movement, an elegy, and in Järvi’s hands it was the bleakest kind of dirge. The violins shivered, and the oboe solo by Dwight Parry was remarkable for its plaintive quality. Even though arresting, in the end it was too clinical and it left me unmoved.

But then came that amazing quotation of “Hungary, Gracious and Beautiful,” executed glowingly in the violas. And the finale was a tremendous ride, with bursts of energy in the great fugue. It was as good as I’ve heard this orchestra play and the crowd was immediately on its feet.

In the first half, Bezaly made her debut in Mozart’s Concerto No. 2 in D Major, K. 314, and the Andante in C Major, K. 315. Born in Israel, she lives in Sweden, and is clearly one of the brightest lights to emerge among flute virtuosos on the current scene.

She announced that her cadenzas (those flights of virtuosity played without orchestra) were by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. They were inventive and lyrical, with chirping humor that reminded one of “The Magic Flute.” (More from this composer please.)

Bezaly’s sound on her 24-carat gold flute was pure and bright, and her phrasing in the concerto had a spirit and life that is rare. Hers was not a big sound, but engaging and full of personality, and she played with a flawless technique.
The Andante was enchanting. Järvi kept textures light in the orchestra, and their collaboration sparkled.
Beethoven’s Overture to “Fidelio” was a satisfying opener, despite a few ensemble problems.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday in Music Hall. 513-381-3300 , www.cincinnatisymphony.org.

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