Sunday, November 30, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: Cleveland Orchestra guest conductor Paavo Jarvi offers Stravinsky ballet 'Petrouchka'


November 30, 2008
CLASSICAL MUSIC
Zachary Lewis
Plain Dealer Reporter
Heavy food and heavy music don't mix well. No wonder the Cleveland Orchestra's post-Thanksgiving meal goes down as easily as it does.
While the program at Severance Hall this weekend isn't exactly light, it certainly isn't weighty. Furthermore, the vibrant, nimble performances with guest conductor Paavo Jarvi practically guarantee smooth musical digestion.
The highlight in this regard is the revised 1947 version of Stravinsky's ballet "Petrouchka." Like the puppet who is the work's title character, the performance under Jarvi, music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, is animated, colorful and brimming with emotion.

Even without dancers, the dramatic action is clear. The opening and closing crowd scenes are full of bustling energy sparked by principal flutist Joshua Smith and pianist Joela Jones, and in Jarvi's hands, the simultaneous unfolding of disparate musical material is dynamic rather than chaotic.
The orchestra, too, thoroughly inhabits Stravinsky's magical world, infusing the music's rhythmic dimension with lurching, unpredictable quality reminiscent of loose-limbed puppets. Principal trumpet Michael Sachs even injects humor into his portrayal of a tired, faded Ballerina.
By contrast, scenes depicting Petrouchka's frustrations and conflicts with his owner and the Moor are presented with childlike directness. The imaginary puppets may leap and stagger, but there's no stumbling on the part of the performers.
On paper, Erkki-Sven Tuur's "Aditus" could be mistaken for a heavy piece. It is, after all, a tribute to the contemporary Estonian composer's late mentor, Lepo Sumera. But the work, whose Latin title means "opening," is far from ponderous.
Harmonic stasis soon gives way to rocklike development with a strong rhythmic profile. A few key pitches define the musical arena, while dramatic outbursts from the brass whip the entity forward.
Alas, the piece fades away just as it's beginning to take shape in an evocative performance. Here, at least, "Aditus" sounds more like an approach than a full-on entry.
At least one performance could use greater heft. The touch that Jarvi uses to bring "Petrouchka" to life renders Beethoven's Violin Concerto strangely lifeless under the bow of guest violinist Christian Tetzlaff.
A dazzling showman, Tetzlaff executes filler passages such as trills and scales with the wiry tension of a hummingbird. His restored version of the cadenza for violin and timpani also makes for an exotic experience.
But the conscious fragility with which he imbues so many melodic ideas runs counter to the score's playful spirit. Where Beethoven asks for grandeur and earthy vigor, Tetzlaff delivers quicksilver technique and a dainty, precious sound. Rather than a sampling of delicacies, it's a smorgasbord.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
zlewis@plaind.com, 216-999-4632

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