Saturday, October 13, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Jarvi loses his baton, but CSO doesn't miss beat

October 12, 2007
Cincinnati Post
By Mary Ellyn Hutton Post music writer

The Boy Scout motto, be prepared, must be Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi's motto, too.
Though it wasn't the most stirring thing that happened at Thursday evening's CSO concert at Music Hall, it did cause a moment of concern when Järvi's baton struck his music stand and flew into the cello section as guest artist Vadim Repin and the CSO neared the end of Beethoven's Violin Concerto.
Järvi put his hand to his mouth briefly (out of concern for principal cellist Eric Kim, who was in the line of fire), picked up another baton - apparently he keeps an extra on the podium - and resumed conducting as if nothing had happened. Kim appeared not to have missed a note, and the concerto came to a rousing conclusion.
The true excitement of the evening lay with the music itself, even in the way it was presented. The Beethoven came last, preceded by three symphonic movements by Mahler.
"Todtenfeier" ("Funeral Rites"), which Mahler turned into the first movement of his Symphony No. 2, opened the concert.
Next came the Adagio from his unfinished Symphony No. 10, which dwells on the end of life.
First after intermission was "What the Wild Flowers Tell Me," second movement of his Symphony No. 3 arranged in 1941 by Benjamin Britten. A CSO premiere, it could have been new life pushing through the earth.
Beethoven, in whose shadow Mahler (and everyone else) wrote, made the perfect, upbeat ending with one of his best-loved works.
All of this was done, like the baton, with the utmost preparation. Järvi does not like to speak to the audiences before (or during) concerts.
It's nothing personal, he says; he doesn't like to speak to anyone before concerts, but tries to focus his energies solely on making music. (For an engaging substitute, the CSO has begun projecting program notes by Järvi onto a screen over the stage before his concerts.)
"Todtenfeier," musicologists say, was inspired by a poem about a young man who commits suicide when the woman he loves marries another. Järvi poured trauma to match into the CSO performance: anger in the cellos and basses, soft, sudden tenderness in the violins, nostalgia in the English horn, chaos culminating in a big drop off, then despair heard against muffled cymbal, heaving horns, a shriek in the trumpets and downward tumbling scales.
"Like a stab in the heart" is how one member of the audience described the fortissimo outburst in Mahler's Adagio, with its high C held for seven bars by the first trumpet.
The violas opened with a hushed, tender melody, sounding like one instrument. First violins introduced a melancholy theme building to high-lying threnodies against sorrow-laden textures. There were sardonic moments, as well, but the anguish and terror finally subsided in an atmosphere of peaceful resignation.
"What the Wild Flowers Tell Me" brought smiles. Vividly orchestrated by Britten, it contrasted a gentle landler with a whirling mid-section, ending in a tracery of woodwind "blossoms."
Repin and the CSO made splendid partners in the Beethoven concerto. The Russian born violinist unites exquisite musicianship with a pearly tone and daunting technique.
Järvi, having just performed the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen on tour, led as if born to the task, and I found myself relishing the CSO every bit as much as the soloist.
Repin was compelling in the softest moments, as in the Larghetto, where it grew so quiet in the hall the only sound was his violin against soft pizzicato, a quartet of woodwinds or a pair of unbelievably faraway sounding horns at the end.
He was commanding in the cadenzas, full-voiced and flowing, and he scampered nimbly with the CSO in the finale.

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