Saturday, September 20, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: Dvorak as You Like It

September 19, 2008

By Mary Ellyn Hutton

A lock of dark hair falling over his eyes, French cellist Gautier Capucon, 27, made his entrance in Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with smooth, broad bowstrokes Friday morning at Music Hall.
It was an auspicious moment, the debut of an important new artist with music director Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Capucon won over his listeners in a sublimely musical way, without flash or excess, keeping them deeply engaged from beginning to end..
The Concerto was one of three Dvorak works on the program. As Järvi put it in his pre-concert "First Notes" projected above the stage, "if you don’t like Dvorak, you’re out of luck."
Fortunately most people do, since the Czech composer is one of the most populsr in the symphonic repertoire.
Instead of opening with one of Dvorak’s popular Slavonic Dances or an overture like "Carnival," Järvi chose the Symphonic Variations, Op.78, a work full of beauty and invention that is infrequently heard on concert programs. One reason for that may be its 22-minute length, which when paired with the Cello Concerto and the concluding Symphony No. 8, added up to a rather long concert.
The theme of the Variations is a bit unusual: 20 bars divided into seven, six and seven-bar segments using both F-sharp and F-natural. Dvorak borrowed it from a piece he wrote for men's chorus. There are 27 variations and a fugal finale. Järvi shaped it elegantly, with lots of dynamic and tempo nuances. The variations ranged from light and charming with flute and piccolo filigree to heavier and more somber. (Variation 24 somehow reminded this listener of the fourth variation of Brahms’ Variations on a theme of Haydn.) The CSO performed it all with great agility and spirit.
Capucon and Järvi, who have recorded the Dvorak Concerto with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra (for January release), were like-minded in their approach to the work. The performance was as much symphonic as soloistic, with delicious interactions between cello and orchestra – the flutes, for instance, in the first movement development, associate principal clarinetist Jonathan Gunn and the woodwinds in the Adagio, including a ruby-colored moment pairing the oboes and the cello toward the end. The finale soared, from the triangle-spattered introduction to the magnificent coda (final section), where Dvorak demonstrated his ability to craft a leave-taking like none other. Concertmaster Timothy Lees, whose urgent solos led into the coda, returned near the end for a breathless duet with Capucon, who eased gently downward into the cello’s last, lingering solo line.
Throughout the concert, Capucon demonstrated a calibrated intensity, carved partially with expressive vibrato – or most eloquently sometimes, no vibrato at all -- and carefully shaded dynamics. All told, it was music that sent shivers up and down the spine and brought an enthusiastic ovation from the Music Hall audience.
Dvorak’s Eighth has been called his "pastoral" symphony and it does partake of that spirit. Consider the merry flute solo at the outset, performed with exquisite sweetness by principal flutist Randolph Bowman, and the village waltz-like third movement. However, there is gravity, too, as in the light to dark exchanges between the flutes and clarinets and a sudden, stern outburst by the horn near the end of the second movement (delivered with authority by associate principal Thomas Sherwood).
The finale began with a bright trumpet fanfare followed by a set of variations. There was a lot of inspired commotion here, broken by the return of the fanfare, a bit of flute "birdsong" atop the CSO cellos and another of Dvorak’s prolonged farewells. This one seemed more in fun than in the Concerto, as the triadic theme augmented itself and repeated over and over until Järvi brought it to a delightful end with the raucous, slapdash conclusion.
Repeat is 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

Many thanks for an excellent concert review.

Gautier Capucon is my favorite cellist and I am very interested and excited to read your mention that he has made an upcoming recording with Järvi of the Dvorak concerto, which is surely the greatest work in the cello repertoire.