TOKYO - You wouldn't think the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra could top the performance it gave in Japan's Suntory Hall on Sunday. But in a return visit to this great Tokyo concert hall on Wednesday night, it did.
Musically, the orchestra's seven-concert, two-week tour of Japan has been a steady crescendo through some of Japan's finest halls. For the finale in Suntory Hall, the whole tour seemed to be summed up in its performance of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 under Paavo Järvi's leadership.
It was perfection, not only for the romantic sweep, interpretive power and excellent playing, but also for the sheer sonic beauty of this orchestra in an acoustic gem.
Like every other concert here, tickets were expensive (up to $255) but the hall was full, and patrons mobbed the table of Järvi's CDs - with the CSO and his other orchestras - at intermission. Listeners barely moved during the concert, but they applauded and cheered enthusiastically until Järvi had provided two encores and he finally waved goodbye.
There was perhaps no finer showcase for the Cincinnati strings than Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, which concluded the program. From the opening, the sound of the basses was dark and mellow, adding to the melancholy aura of this piece. The strings played with warmth and refinement, resulting in a breathtaking sheen. With the horns' glowing sound and the subtlety of expression in the winds, you could only revel in the magical sound in this hall.Järvi's view was spacious as he swept up the orchestra with broad gestures through one great theme after another. He took time to linger on the romantic passages, balancing poetic feeling with drama, energy and drive.
The heart of Rachmaninoff's Symphony is the slow movement. You could hear a pin drop when Järvi and the orchestra began one of the most gorgeous love themes ever written, and principal clarinetist Richie Hawley performed the famous solo.
Järvi opened with the American music that has defined this tour. In Bernstein's "Divertimento," one was struck by the clarity of the orchestra's sound, but it was also a fun showpiece for orchestral soloists, including cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn, violist Basil Vendryes, percussionist William Platt (performing his last international tour before retirement) and Carson McTeer on tuba.
Järvi brought out the humor wonderfully, and for the finale, the entire brass section and the piccolos stood.
As soloist, Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman joined the orchestra for his fifth and final performance of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." It was an erratic reading of this great jazz concerto, but it was his best and most unified performance with the orchestra on the tour.
Hawley stretched out his "smear" and played superbly throughout, and the orchestra, including banjo (Paul Patterson), slapping basses and three saxophones, sounded terrific. The crowd ate it up. For an encore, Zimerman dashed off Gershwin's Prelude No. 3.
On Tuesday, the orchestra performed in Yokohama's Minato Mirai Concert Hall. Built in 1998, it is a massive, shoebox-shaped contemporary hall, centered by a spectacular organ built by C.B.Fisk Inc. of Gloucester, Mass.
A large, festive crowd was on hand for the matinee performance, perhaps because it was Japanese Culture Day, a national holiday to promote the arts and academics.
Järvi led his American program, starting with Bernstein's Overture to "Candide" and "Divertimento." It was clear that this hall was not as acoustically friendly as the others had been, although it is a popular destination for major orchestras.I've found Zimerman's "Rhapsody in Blue" to be the most puzzling of all of his tour performances. This reading was more romantic and over-pedaled than the others, with sudden changes of tempo that found him attacking the music like a man possessed. It was more Liberace than the refined artistry for which he's known, and he missed notes and seemed lost at least once. He crashed through his encore so fast that it was a blur and lost all sense of rhythm.
The audience cheered.
Also on Tuesday, the orchestra gave its final performance of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. Despite acoustical challenges, the lightness and the expressive detail Järvi achieved was impressive.
As in the other performances, the audience didn't seem to breathe, especially during Christopher Philpotts elegant English horn solo in the Largo.
Järvi, leading without a score, employed relaxed tempos, breadth and affection. The audience demanded encores, and got two Brahms Hungarian dances, before Järvi pulled concertmaster Timothy Lees off the stage.
The fans continued applauding long after most of the musicians had exited, until finally, Järvi made a surprise appearance, pulling his coat back on for one last bow. At the CD signing later, the long line snaked several times through the hall.
On Monday in Yokohama, Järvi and a quintet of brass players gave a presentation about American music for invited music students, their teachers and other interested members of the Yokohama music community.The orchestra returns home to Cincinnati today.