Friday, November 21, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: 'Planets' out of this world




November 21, 2008

By Janelle Gelfand


One can hardly describe the fierce power of the brass, two sets of timpani pounding relentlessly and bows cracking across their strings as Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra reached heavenward in "Mars, the Bringer of War" from Gustav Holst's "The Planets" Thursday night.
The floors of Music Hall vibrated in this high-voltage performance of "The Planets," the English composer's suite evoking seven celestial bodies. With an expanded orchestra onstage, a panorama of glowing orchestral colors unfolded through each of the seven movements. Besides the music - which has inspired many a Hollywood film score - here was an orchestra playing at the height of its powers. It simply doesn't get any better than this.
Topping off the evening was a spectacular violin soloist, Julia Fischer, in the Dvorak Violin Concerto.
Holst, who was interested in astrology, depicted each planet according to its astrological character. Järvi led impressively, opening with a relentless drive and controlled power that brought "Mars, the Bringer of War," written when Europe was on the brink of World War I, to a ferocious climax.
Each planet was vivid with atmosphere and Järvi illuminated each detail of the orchestral palette. "Venus," was warm and transparent, with gentle horn calls, the glowing sounds of harp and celesta, and gorgeous playing by the strings. In contrast, Järvi took "Mercury" at very quick tempo. Its playful mood was echoed in "Uranus, the Magician."
When the noble English tune of "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity," emerged from the orchestral canvas, it was deeply moving. "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age," on the other hand, had an eerie coolness, and the performance projected its aura of mystery as well as its heavy-heartedness.
The musicians played with exciting precision, from the red-blooded brass and timpani flourishes, to the most ethereal sounds in winds and strings at the softer end of the spectrum. The final movement, "Neptune, the Mystic," lived up to its name; a mystical canvas that floated through space, while the Women of the May Festival Chorus sang their celestial choir from Music Hall's lobby.
The evening opened with the Dvorak Concerto in A Minor, which, in the hands of Fischer, was another rare treat. Even though the German violinist is just 25, her star is already in the firmament. (This week she signed an exclusive contract with Decca.)
From the first note, it was clear that this would be a performance of depth as well as virtuosity. The violinist unleashed a big, golden tone in Dvorak's lyrical tunes and effortlessly tossed off the work's difficulties with vigor and intensity.
There were no theatrics - just stunning artistry and a genuine sense of joy for the music. She gave the slow movement an introspective cast, communicating its melodies with deep feeling and beauty of line. The finale, with its charming Bohemian dances, was a sunny display of light and shade.
Järvi and the orchestra were completely in synch, even when she was at her most spontaneous.
Drop everything and go.
The concert repeats at 11 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: 513-381-3300,

www.cincinnati symphony.org

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