Friday, November 16, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: The CSO's Mahler universe

Thursday, November 15, 2007
The Cincinnati Enquirer
By Janelle Gelfand

Here's tonight's symphony review. Look for an interview with Ingrid Fliter in Friday's Weekend section.Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 7 is his most misunderstood work, and a test of both orchestra and audience. On Thursday, after an absence of nearly two decades, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra revisited this most enigmatic, quirky and ultimately, spectacular of symphonies.Mahler's Seventh, calling for massive forces, formed the evening's second half. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major opened the program, in a sparkling reading by Ingrid Fliter.Mahler's symphonies all have underlying psychological meaning, and the Seventh seems to lay bare all of the composer's neuroses. Like his other symphonies, each of its five movements displays a universe of emotion in an endless quest for meaning.Järvi and the orchestra plunged energetically into the first movement, distinctive for its haunting sound of the euphonium (Peter Norton) and its rapid mood swings. Technically, its disparate threads didn't come together until midway, when frenzied passages dissolved into an atmospheric section of distant fanfares.Järvi's pacing was masterful and expression was red-blooded and full of bite. The contrasts of the three central scherzos were outlined in brilliant colors. "Night Music I," with its superbly-played horn calls, was hair-raising and grotesque; the second scherzo combined mystery and quirky humor.The most famously "Mahlerian" movement was "Night Music II," a pastoral serenade calling for mandolin and guitar. Winds and strings glowed in this rare moment of serenity.Despite its challenges, the musicians responded with exceptional playing. The finale was an exuberant display of symphonic glory, as brass and timpani unleashed their full power.To open, the Argentine pianist Fliter made her CSO debut in Mozart's A Major Concerto. The 34-year-old pianist was relatively unknown in America until about two years ago, when she won the Gilmore Competition, a $300,000 prize awarded to an unsuspecting pianist every four years.In a time of pianistic showmanship, it was a joy to see Mozart played with such beauty and without a trace of ego. Her touch was limpid, phrasing elegant and her phrases beautifully shaped.The slow movement was memorable for the pianist's singing tone and poetic phrasing. Its deeply interior quality was a stark contrast to the effervescent finale. The finale's fleet tempo and scampering runs left no doubt that this was composed in the time of "Figaro."Järvi, always with one eye on the keyboard, was at one with his soloist in this warm collaboration.The concert repeats at 11 a.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday in Music Hall.

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