Monday, November 17, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: Hanslip, Orchestral Splendor at the CSO

November 16, 2008
Hanslip, Orchestral Splendor at the CSO
By Mary Ellyn Hutton

A “Petrouchka” so alive it could have danced off the stage, a visitor from Britain and an orchestral showpiece were the stuff of an engrossing concert by Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Nov. 15 at Music Hall.
The visitor was 21-year-old English violinist Chloe Hanslip in her CSO debut. Her calling card was Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a work requiring agility, stylistic flexibility and lots of pure stamina. The former child prodigy was equal to these demands, with a quicksilver technique and the ability to spin a pure, sweet line as well as pop out all the piquant effects Prokofiev is known for. As for stamina, she seemed none the worse for wear as the concerto drew to a sublime end in the violin’s highest register.
She did not project a big sound, but seemed intent on working with Järvi and the CSO in chamber music fashion, often turning towards them and carefully aligning herself with his baton. This subtracted somewhat from the violin’s commanding role and gave her a more subtle, even sophisticated presence.
Certainly there was no faulting her musicality – for example, in the first movement where her carefully shaped opening statement took the breath away. She tended to avoid big romantic moments in favor of ensemble blends, as in the violin’s soft, high tracery against harp, flute and piccolo at the end of the first movement. All in all, this approach may have fit better in a more intimate venue than Music Hall, but this listener looks forward to hearing her again soon.
The rest of the concert featured the CSO in all its sonic glory. “Stravinsky’s Petrouchka” was startlingly transparent, with every note and every line in exquisite balance. Principal flutist Randolph Bowman’s called the puppets to life with the utmost grace in the first tableau (“The Magic Trick”), a vibrant movement where Stravinsky’s complex rhythms knocked against each other clearly. Järvi shaped the woodwind melody preceding pianist Michael Chertock’s subito forte (suddenly loud) repeat of the puppets’ dance soulfully and longingly.
Vivid characterization was another feature of the performance. There has rarely been a more sinister Moor than in the third tableau with its sinuous woodwinds and wicked timpani outburst. The Ballerina’s dance was bright and chipper (principal trumpeter Robert Sullivan) with a bump and grind accompaniment in the winds and Christopher Philpot’s leering English horn. The concluding fourth tableau (“Shrovetide Fair”) bustled with fun (Järvi grew almost balletic himself at times). Ixi Chen on E-flat clarinet and Jason Koi on tuba provided a vivid portrait of the bear lumbering through the marketplace.
The concert ended with Paul Hindemith’s 1943 “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber.” To be recorded by Telarc, the four-movement work is always a treat for its exuberance and brilliant orchestration. Järvi dug right into the march-like Allegro (nothing subtle here) building it to a blazing, brassy conclusion. The quirky “Turandot Scherzo” began, again, with a beautiful solo by Bowman, and that wasn’t the only reminiscence of Ravel’s “Bolero.” The two-part theme passed from one instrumental combination to another (the trombones’ turn was my favorite) gathering momentum until it snapped like a rubber band. The jazzy variations that followed included timpani and tubular bell exchanging portions of the theme and a final, exhausted fadeout.
The slow movement (Andantino) was almost Brahmsian, opening with a wistful melody by clarinet and bassoon (principals Richard Hawley and William Winstead). Flutist Bowman showed it was his night again with his lovely, extended filigree over the slow-moving theme as it passed through the orchestra. The finale of “Metamorphosis,” another March, showcased the horns in a triumphant dotted salute that led to an explosive conclusion.
The concert repeats at 3 p.m. Nov. 16 at Music Hall.

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