Saturday, January 10, 2009


January 10, 2009

Counterintuitive program; surprising synergy

By Janelle Gelfand • • 

Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra launched 2009 with a concert of music spanning three centuries. Under Järvi's baton, each work was full of surprises, and each performance was more invigorating than the last.

On paper, it might not have looked like it would work together: Haydn's Symphony No. 82, "The Bear," Bartok's rarely played Piano Concerto No. 1, and Schumann's Symphony No. 1, "Spring." But each work complemented the others wonderfully, from the brisk wake-up call of the Haydn, to the powerhouse performance of Bartok by Stewart Goodyear, and finally, an effervescent reading of the "Spring" Symphony.

Schumann's "Spring" Symphony will be remembered as one of the great performances of the season. From the brass fanfare that began the spellbinding introduction, the symphony's four movements unfolded in one beautifully shaped, energized and inspired arc. It was a stunning display of the expressive ability of this orchestra.

Järvi's tempos pushed ahead; the first movement was a seat-of-your-pants vivace. But the effect was refreshing, and the musicians responded with superb playing. The conductor led with affection, and every note was bursting with color. There was lightness in the strings, chortling winds, and tremendous warmth and virtuosity in the brass - notably the great horn fanfare in the finale (Elizabeth Freimuth and Lisa Conway).

Bartok played his first Piano Concerto as soloist with the CSO in 1928. It is rhythmic, driving and powerful - and an endurance test for the pianist. But it is also full of folk music and interesting rhythms. Calling for a large, colorful orchestra, it is showpiece for them as well as for the pianist.

Fortunately, Goodyear, a Toronto native, possesses a spectacular technique, but more than that, he is a pianist of depth, intelligence and lyricism. No matter how punishing Bartok's percussive pianistic figures became, the pianist's playing was insightful and lyrical. He barely broke a sweat, even when his hands were a blur as he flew through parallel octave runs and fistfuls of difficult figures, up and down the keyboard.

But he was also a master of touch and tone in softer passages, such as the exotic folk tune of the first movement, played entirely on the black keys, and the mysterious slow movement, with its angular, austere melody.

Järvi and the orchestra were perfectly in synch and provided wonderful effects - brilliant energy in the first movement, and chamber-like playing in the second. It was a study in contrasts, both brutal and beautiful.

Goodyear tackled the impossibly driving tempo of the finale with a burst of energy. It was a tour de force of artistry, and he looked up, as if surprised, when it ended.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. 513-381-3300, What did you think? Review this concert at Cincinnati.Com/Entertainment.

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