Monday, April 28, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: Järvi, Zukerman, CSO Fit as a Fiddle

April 25, 2008
By Mary Ellyn Hutton

If it’s Thursday, it must be Cincinnati.
That’s right, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra returned from a two- week tour of Europe April 24 at Music Hall.
They were welcomed by a large crowd on a gorgeous spring evening that also marked the return of famed violinist Pinchas Zukerman to the Music Hall stage after a decade-long absence.
The program was an inviting one, Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G Minor, Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major and Veljo Tormis’ Overture No. 2. The CSO sounded sleek and agile, tuned to a razor’s edge from the intensive “practice” of almost daily concerts and rehearsals since leaving Cincinnati the beginning of April. If there was any fatigue, it did not show in either conductor or players.
As for Zukerman, a favorite in these parts as he is worldwide, don’t blame the Guarnerius. (He played his 1742 “Dushkin” Guarnerius del Gesu.) That warm, plush, arrestingly big sound coming from the stage was Zukerman with a little help from his fiddle. His embrace almost overwhelmed the violin (there were a couple of oops moments, attributable largely to the force and intensity of his playing), reminding one that he is one of the world’s great violists as well, and should be heard more often in that neglected corner of the repertoire.
His performance of the Bruch Concerto was like that of a great storyteller returning for the nth time to a familiar and well-loved tale, putting new emphasis on a plot detail now and then. He drew out the violin’s opening statement, for instance, lingering tenderly on it and tapering it with juicy vibrato. No violinist in my memory plays so easily high on the G string, producing a natural extension of its timbre, which can turn throaty in other hands (again, what a violist Zukerman is).
Järvi made a ravishing symphonic whole out of the concerto, accompanying the soloist with pinpoint accuracy, soaring during lush tutti moments and bringing out delicious details and counter-melodies in the orchestral accompaniment.
Zukerman deigned an encore despite repeated, thunderous applause (which did not stop even when the house lights went up, signaling intermission).
Järvi’s Mozart 39 served as a reminded of how “radical” Mozart was becoming before his tragically early death (at 35). The work’s imposing slow introduction (Beethoven 9 anyone?) featured a blatant, in-your-face dissonance by the violins that looks ahead to Beethoven’s “Eroica.” Järvi crafted a rich blend of voices with full bass support. The centrality of the waltz in Viennese music was noticeable, too, even in the “uneven” phrasing (try to dance to it) of the Allegro’s first theme.
The perky Andante con moto was like a repeated question and answer, with a sudden turn into Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) and a gracious closing theme. The Menuetto, also waltz-like, was a toe-tapper with one of those impossibly beautiful melodies (the clarinet duet in the Trio) that appear out of nowhere in Mozart, as they do in Schubert. Again in the finale, Järvi found a rich orchestral blend, letting the brass underline prominently the merry bustle of the strings.
Veljo Tormis, 77, is an Estonian legend, who has made it his life’s work to preserve his country’s musical legacy, almost completely in the choral repertoire (for a comprehensive discussion of his music, see the recently published “Ancient Song Recovered: The Life and Music of Veljo Tormis” by New York-based choral conductor Mimi S. Daitz).
Tormis’1959 Overture No. 2, one of his very few purely orchestral works, is reminiscent of much of the drama-tinged music composed during the Soviet era. Järvi led the CSO premiere in 2004 and will record it with the CSO on an upcoming Telarc CD. Shostakovich, Nielsen, Sibelius and Tormis’ countryman Eduard Tubin, whose Fifth Symphony was his inspiration, all come to mind during its searing 11 minutes. Järvi cultivated the low basses that give it much of its menacing color and let the strings rage with anger. At the same time, he brought out the heart-rending sorrow of the contrasting quieter section.
The concert repeats at 11 a.m. April 25 and 8 p.m. April 26 at Music Hall.

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