Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A New Take on Gershwin

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer, October 27, 2009

Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Concert Hall

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed its second concert of the tour in Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan Concert Hall in the Ueno neighborhood. Tour soloist Krystian Zimerman joined for his first performance of the tour, in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and Paavo Jarvi conducted Bernstein’s “Divertimento” and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1.

The hall, built in 1961, has excellent acoustics, and the orchestra’s strings sounded much richer, especially evident in the Rachmaninoff.

I found the Gershwin the most interesting interpretation of that work I’ve ever heard. It was partly genius and partly quirky, and I wished I’d had the opportunity to interview the Polish pianist about his inspirations. His touch and voicing of chords — on his own polished Steinway grand — were stunning, and I love the way he brought out the inner voices, or made a bluesy inflection here or there.

Then there would be a frenzied section, with propulsive runs that landed on wrong notes. He sometimes added a grace note or two, and also a keyboard-spanning glissando. The slow, jazzy bass theme played in the right hand was so slow it lost momentum. But some of his view sounded wonderfully spontaneous, and may have fit the jazz idiom better than most of the homogenized versions we hear.

He also appeared to be having fun, as did Jarvi and the orchestra. The pianist swiveled on his bench to hear Richie Hawley perform his famous opening “smear,” and what a smear it was. With Hawley’s superb contributions heard prominently throughout, I felt it was almost a mini double-concerto at times. And Jarvi never missed a beat.

The Rachmaninoff was sheer joy in this acoustic space. The strings shone, from the bass depth — something that was missing in last night’s hall — to the sweet sound of the cello section under principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn.

The crowd — which packed the 2300-seat hall — wouldn’t let Jarvi and the orchestra leave until they had played two encores. With those — and at least 15 minutes of clapping and cheering — the concert ended a half hour later.

Subway art: on the Ginza Line

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