January 26, 2008
There were three newcomers at the Cincinnati Symphony Friday night at Music Hall. Two were new to the repertoire, Arvo Pärt’s “Concerto Piccolo über B-A-C-H” and Eino Tamberg’s Trumpet Concerto, Op. 42, both CSO premieres. One was new to the CSO guest list, Swedish trumpet virtuoso Hakan Hardenberger in his CSO debut. Together they made for an extremely rewarding concert. “Familiar” work on the program, though hardly a staple, was Anton Bruckner’s unfinished Symphony No. 9, which received a deeply felt performance by music director Paavo Järvi and the CSO. Estonian born Pärt is increasingly familiar in the concert hall as well, largely for his hugely popular “mystical minimalist” works, but the “Concerto Piccolo über B-A-C-H” is not one of them. Just eight minutes long, the “Concerto Piccolo” began life in 1964 as “Collage sur B-A-C-H,” a charming and disarming work for strings, oboe, harpsichord and piano that juxtaposes baroque and modernist elements. Note the startling shift from placid tonality to dense tone clusters in the second movement. The three movements are patterned on baroque forms, the toccata, sarabande and ricercar. The Sarabande is a re-setting of the same movement from Bach’s English Suite No. 6 for harpsichord. The outer movements utilize Bach’s name as “spelled” in German notation (B-flat, A, C, B-natural). In 1994, Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi (father of Paavo) persuaded Pärt to rework it as a concerto for Hardenberger by adding a solo trumpet part. It is no accident then that the trumpet sounds a bit like an interloper, having to muscle or insinuate itself into the proceedings (it does get the lovely oboe theme in the Sarabande without a struggle). Hardenberger, acknowledged as the world’s reigning trumpet soloist, gave it a bright, energetic performance that sparkled to the last high D. Tamberg, who heads the composition department at Tallinn Conservatory in Tallinn, Estonia, has a large and distinguished body of work to his credit, including opera, ballet, theater and film music, symphonies, concertos, choral and chamber music. His 1972 Trumpet Concerto is widely performed and remains his most popular work. The trumpet is well served throughout, with brisk, pulse-quickening passages alternating with gentle lyricism. There is a good bit of drama, too, as in the furious, unexpected climax of the slow movement, which suggests an undisclosed subtext of some kind. Hardenberger made it sound easy, even in the perpetual motion finale, which suggested the final movement of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, with a dash of Gilbert and Sullivan, a beautiful melodic infusion and -- again surprisingly -- a peaceful ending. Called back repeatedly, Hardenberger turned to jazz -- a relatively recent acquisition, he said, in pre-concert remarks -- for his encore, a spell-binding, muted “My Funny Valentine.” Järvi, who can generate podium electricity with the best of them, poured something deeper into his Bruckner Nine following intermission. Call it soul, a striving for classical perfection or both, but the analogy frequently drawn between Bruckner's symphonies and cathedrals in sound really fit. Järvi allowed the music to unfold majestically without attempting to superimpose anything extra. The pacing felt natural and the composer’s typical block-like construction emerged clean-edged and neatly proportioned. The brass choir, fortified by four Wagner tubas (in the Adagio), was aligned across the back of the stage sending a glorious sound into the hall. However, dynamics were never pushed. The Scherzo contrasted pounding energy and sparkling congeniality (the Trio section). The Adagio, the last movement completed by Bruckner, was suffused with valedictory meaning from the opening bars which soared upward in a “Dresden Amen” (Wagner, “Parsifal”) to the special color of the Wagner tubas. Järvi saved some of the choicest color for the woodwinds, however, as in the flute’s soft echo of the opening theme in contrary motion against the strings. The closing bars of resignation, with soft arpeggios in the violins, were achingly beautiful, the crowd remaining absolutely still for some seconds before the applause began.