Sunday, November 04, 2007

CONCERT REVIEW: Järvi, CSO heroic in Beethoven, Stravinsky

November 3, 2007

Cincinnati Enquirer

If you do nothing else this season, go hear Paavo Järvi conduct Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. His high-voltage interpretation of Beethoven’s Third with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Friday night was revolutionary – in a program that matched two composers who revolutionized music.
Järvi was back in town to open his “Stravinsky Festival,” a two-week series anchored by works of Stravinsky. Friday’s program included the May Festival Chorus in the orchestra’s first performance of Stravinsky’s Chorale-Variations on “Vom Himmel Hoch Do Komm’ Ich Her” (From Heaven Above to You I Come) and the “Symphony of Psalms.”
Järvi’s view of the “Eroica” was light-years away from the orchestra’s last reading in 1994. In step with the trend of “period” performance, his tempos were exceedingly quick. Short bows, prominent timpani drumrolls and crisply articulated phrases created an unusual lightness of spirit. It was adrenalin-charged and the musicians played like virtuosos. Just occasionally did one miss Beethoven’s depth of sonority.
The first movement was fresh and vigorously played, with accents that came out like a shot. The funeral march was no dirge, but it flowed with soaring wind themes and riveting inventiveness of phrasing. The brilliance and explosive power of the scherzo was extraordinary. Järvi swept into the finale with one big flourish, giving the minor-keyed section tremendous color, as the clarinets raised their bells. It gripped from the first note to last, and the crowd was cheering at the cutoff.
The highlight of the first half was the “Symphony of Psalms,” Stravinsky’s 1930 Psalm setting in three symphonic movements. While not “religious,” it has a direct appeal, and the lack of violins and violas lends a distinctive, sometimes organ-like sonority.The chorus, prepared by Robert Porco, projected a vibrant sound, expertly navigating difficult, sometimes dissonant harmonies. The final “Alleluia” was a glowing summation of memorable beauty. Järvi’s orchestra was confident and richly colored.The opening Chorale-Variations, based on a Bach chorale, also featured unorthodox orchestration, giving it a unique sound. The choral timbre was dark against sparkling winds and spiky harmonies in the orchestra. Here, though, the orchestral playing wasn’t quite as clean and convincing.The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday in Music Hall. 513-381-3300.

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