Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ligeti wows at symphony. Who knew?

From "The Cincinnati Enquirer" on 3/14/09, by Janelle Gelfand

Paavo Järvi had a surprise for the audience in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s concert Friday night. It was called "Romanian Concerto" by Gyorgy Ligeti. Ligeti’s "Concert Romanesque," which concluded the evening, was the most fantastic piece you’ve never heard. Rich with Romanian folk tunes and village dance music, it reminded one of Bartok’s folk music in the same vein. It made a fine partner to Bartok’s "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta," a 1936 work that continues to amaze, which opened. This was extraordinary music, and, with the orchestra in peak form, it was superbly played. The only disappointment was that this Bartok and Ligeti program will not be recorded as originally planned due to budget cuts, as well as the closing of Telarc’s production division. At the program’s center was Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467, with Canadian pianist Louis Lortie as soloist. For the Bartok, the seating was arranged in two string orchestras, with percussion, harp, keyboards and eight double basses arrayed across the back. The emotion was palpable in the first movement, a fugue, which opened with its mournful, chromatic subject in the violas, and built to a searing climax. The second was a vibrant contrast. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an exciting performance, with Järvi a driving force, galvanizing the musicians. They responded with brilliant flourishes in timpani, harp, piano and celesta, and the basses put on quite a pizzicato show. (Sit upstairs for the best view.) The slow movement, characteristic of Bartok’s "night music," was all about mystery and atmosphere, with its sweeping glissandos and eerie tremolos in the strings. Järvi built the intensity to a frenzied climax in the finale, a biting dance in Bulgarian rhythms.

Ligeti is better known for his atmospheric music used in Stanley Kubrick films, but his early "Romanian Concerto" (1951) is a real find. The first movement, evoking a Romanian Christmas carol, was spacious and lyrical. Its charming features included echoing horns between stage and balcony (Thomas Sherwood), Transylvanian fiddling for concertmaster Timothy Lees and colorful village tunes to show off the winds.

For the centerpiece, Montreal-born Lortie took the stage in Mozart’s glorious Piano Concerto No. 21, famous for the theme used in the movie, "Elvira Madigan." Lortie possesses a glittering technique and a showman’s stage presence. His penchant for tossing up his hands and bouncing along with his arpeggios grew distracting. His touch sparkled through Mozart’s sunny themes, though his playing was uneven in the cadenzas (of his own invention).

The heart of the work is the slow movement, and he brought lovely tone to its unforgettable melody. Then he dashed through the finale. In the end, he communicated the work’s joy, but not its inspiration.

The orchestra made a refined partner, and their ensemble with the soloist was in perfect synch.
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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