Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO builds bridge to 20th century

November 17, 2008

By Janelle Gelfand

A program of 20th century masterpieces might not have been one to attract a crowd on a Sunday afternoon, but its rewards were many.
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's program, played before a small audience of several hundred in Music Hall on Sunday, was one of vivid orchestral colors and superb playing by the musicians. (The concert also was performed on Saturday.) The orchestra, led by Paavo Järvi, revisited Stravinsky's brilliant ballet score "Petrouchka," which Järvi and the orchestra have recorded together, and performed Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis," which they will record for Telarc this week.
The 20th century theme continued in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, which introduced 21-year-old British violinist Chloë Hanslip.
The first half was filled with "Petrouchka," the 1911 ballet about a little puppet that loves a ballerina, in Stravinsky's 1947 version. It was a treat to revisit this wonderful score, which evokes the Russian tale so imaginatively.
Järvi and the orchestra brought it all vividly to life, opening with a galaxy of colors in the "Shrovetide Fair" music. Leading energetically, Järvi pulled each detail from the orchestral canvas, capturing both the humor and poignancy of the spurned puppet. The orchestra's playing was precise, atmospheric and often breathtaking. Among the solo contributions, pianist Michael Chertock's energized "Russian Dance" stood out.
Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 was a showpiece of a different kind. It features multifaceted moods, from gorgeous lyricism to sparkling fireworks, and calls for an arsenal of effects from the violinist.
Hanslip, a onetime prodigy who is already a concert veteran of more than a decade, had technique to spare. Somehow, though, the performance left me unmoved.
She projected a soulful tone in the great opening melody, crouching and swaying as she played. Her sound was not large, and the personality and poetry of this work failed to project. But her playing in the brilliant scherzo was full of impressive feats, and she tackled it fearlessly. If there was one magical moment, it was her finale, as she soared into the stratosphere with great beauty.
The program concluded with Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis," written in 1943 in America, when the composer was a refugee from Nazi Germany. Although not well known, it is one of Hindemith's most accessible pieces. Each of its four movements is based on a theme by Carl Maria Von Weber, and the writing is inventive and often unexpected.
Järvi and the orchestra gave it robust, energized treatment. The piece often showcased the brass, which played magnificently, arrayed on risers behind the winds. There was also impressive subtlety of color, from wonderful percussion contributions to the flute filigree in the slow movement (Randolph Bowman). The "Turandot" Scherzo, which features an Asian tune, built to a surprisingly jazzy fugue for the brass.
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra continues its season with Gustav Holst's "The Planets," Thursday through Saturday in Music Hall.
Tickets: 513-381-3300, http://www.cincinnatisymphony.org/.

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