Saturday, March 15, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: Symphony playing “heavenly” as it readies for tour

Saturday, March 15, 2008
The Cincinanti Enquirer

By Janelle Gelfand

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's program Friday night in Music Hall was equal parts brilliance and refinement, and the perfect showcase for the orchestra's European tour next month. Paavo Järvi led one of two tour programs that the Cincinnati Symphony will be playing in Europe's musical capitals, and it was clear this ensemble is primed to go on the road. In Schubert's magnificent Symphony No. 9 in C Major, "The Great," the orchestra has never sounded so polished and fresh, or played with such natural spontaneity. Violinist Janine Jansen, a 30-year-old Dutch virtuoso, was soloist in Benjamin Britten's Concerto No. 1, delivering her own remarkable performance of this under-appreciated work. The well-crafted program opened with Arvo Pärt's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten."Schubert's "Great" Symphony is known as "a symphony of heavenly length." Yet this reading, from first note to last, never lacked for inspiration. Järvi took his cue, perhaps, from period instrument performances, for bows were short and timpani attacks were crisp. Yet it also was a performance that sang, befitting this composer of 600 art songs.From the start, one was struck by the clarity, transparency and buoyancy of Järvi's view. The colorful phrasing in the winds, the noble themes in the trombones and the bite in the strings gave it all a breathtaking power. The conductor energized his players with sudden burst of inspiration as he swept them up animatedly, and they responded with superb playing. Tempos were quick, and expressive details, especially in the scherzo, were vivid. Elizabeth Freimuth soared in her opening horn call, and principal oboist Dwight Parry phrased with imagination in his second movement solo. In the evening's first half, Jansen's performance of Britten was equally mesmerizing. The violinist is one of a new generation of stellar artists, whose ease, musicality and freshness seem to anticipate only great things to come. Britten’s Concerto No. 1 of 1939 is rich with Spanish color but the finale reflects the era in which it was written, merging both tragedy and joy. Jansen's lyrical playing emphasized the work's bittersweet quality, as she soared with stunning color into the stratosphere, and dug energetically into the work's intense figures. As the violinist lingered on a phrase here and there, one could only revel in the beauty of her sound. She tackled the scherzo with hair flying, turning to communicate with the orchestra as if she were playing chamber music. For the cadenza she called upon an arsenal of stunning technical effects, including left hand pizzicato. The finale, a passacaglia, was memorable for Jansen's deeply emotional playing. Järvi and the orchestra were seamless partners, and the effect was haunting. The evening opened with Pärt's elegy for Britten. Written for strings and bells, it's an example in the Estonian composer's “tintinnabuli” style. Somber chimes combined with the extraordinary sonority of strings moving in imitation at different tempos. The effect was both hypnotic and deeply touching. This concert is too good to miss. The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday in Music Hall. 513-381-3300.

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