MUNICH – Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra pulled into Munich by train Saturday for the second concert of their 12-city European tour.
Although the orchestra has played in Cincinnati’s Sister City before, this was the first time it would perform in Herkulessaal, part of a palace complex not far from the famous Rathaus Glockenspiel that all tourists visit.
The hall, a shoebox shape with classical columns, a coffered ceiling and large frescoes of Hercules all around, only seated 1,500. The concert, like most on this tour, was sold out, and music lovers of all ages thronged its lobbies.
The musicians entered from the rear of the stage down built-in risers, to great applause. It’s a favorite recording venue and one can see why. The acoustics were superb. In the opening Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” the sound was clear and bright – every slight misfire stood out. But the musicians adjusted quickly, and captured all the warmth and wit of this score.
Tour soloist violinist Janine Jansen joined the orchestra for the first time on this tour, to perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Wearing a dramatic sequined gown and with her long blond tresses flying, she was mesmerizing to watch. But her musicianship was equally mesmerizing. Even though this is an oft-played concerto, the sweetness of her tone, her natural communicative powers and touches of old-world romanticism made this a truly remarkable performance. The haunting theme of the slow movement was made even more soulful by her big vibrato and dynamic drops down to triple-piano.
This was a winning collaboration, which included superior contributions from the Cincinnati winds. The soloist leaned into the intense passages, flying ahead with a big smile and seeming to dare the orchestra to catch her. Clearly, she was having fun, and the audience responded with a deafening roar.
For her encore, she chose the Sarabande from Bach’s unaccompanied D Minor Partita. After intermission, she slid unnoticed into a seat in the crowd to watch the symphony.
Intermissions in Europe allow plenty of time for a champagne, little sandwiches or coffee – after all, you have to fortify yourself for the strassenbahn (streetcar) or subway ride home.
For the second half, Järvi led Shubert’s Symphony No. 9, “The Great,” which sounded quite different than it had the night before in Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. In this bright acoustic, every expressive detail stood out, and the ensemble between orchestral sections seemed more settled.
Sitting in the seventh row, I was struck by the vivid musical experience the listener has in a smaller hall. Järvi’s view emphasized classical clarity, as he led with big circular gestures and urged precise, pointed playing. The orchestra’s playing was breathtakingly fresh.
The Müncheners went wild, with cheers and bravos. By the time Järvi had led two encores – the show-stopping Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 and Sibelius’ “Valse Triste,” many were on their feet – a rarity in Germany.
The orchestra left early Sunday on a train for Vienna, Austria, where it was performing Sunday night in the famous Konzerthaus.