March 7, 2008
The Cincinnati Enquirer
By Janelle Gelfand
The worst snowstorm of the season didn’t keep throngs of intrepid music lovers away from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's concert this morning in Music Hall.
The Cincinnati Symphony has not canceled a subscription concert in 113 years. So while snow fell outside at the rate of about an inch per hour, the orchestra put on a glowing performance of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and an American premiere by Jörg Widmann.
Music director Paavo Järvi was back in town for the program that included the stunning debut of violinist Sayaka Shoji in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major.
The 24-year-old Tokyo native is tiny in stature, but the sound she produced on her “Joachim” Stradivarius was startling for its big, glossy quality. She didn’t draw attention to her ability to perform fireworks, which she easily tossed off in the finale. What stood out was the sheer perfection of her playing.
The violinist took a relaxed tempo in the first movement, emphasizing its lyricism. The slow movement, with its haunting, Russian-flavored theme, was moving for Shoji’s beautiful phrasing as well as for the throaty sound she drew on her instrument. She tore into the finale, in a triumph of technique, warmth and spontaneity. Järvi and the orchestra were ideal partners in this collaboration.Järvi opened with the premiere of Widmann’s “Antiphon,” a piece perhaps more interesting for its process than its content. The musicians were arranged in different choirs, meant to evoke Giovanni Gabrieli’s antiphonal choirs in Venice. Snippets of motives and percussive crashes were tossed back and forth between players, and pianissimo moments alternated with shrieks. Although inventive, it was fragmented and mechanical until the music finally evolved into fullblown polyphony. It was like a chef who deconstructs the meal before you eat it.The Munich-born composer was present to take a bow.Järvi concluded the concert with Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3, not performed by the orchestra since 1934 under Eugene Goossens.The Third is an unusually cheerful symphony by the Finnish composer whose music is often described as “brooding.” The “north woods” atmosphere is still evident, but the joy of this piece is its folklike tunes and classical simplicity. Just 30 minutes long, it is a gem of a symphony.Järvi made a fine case for it, illuminating its soaring themes in horns and winds, balancing majestic sonorities against the more intimate, classical moments. The finale, with its hymn for cellos and violas, was a radiant summation. Today’s Lollipop concert is postponed to May 10. The CSO repeats at 8 p.m. today. Tickets: 513-381-3300.