Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bruckner Eight Wins Over Music Hall Audience

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jan 23, 2010

Never have 75 minutes passed so quickly -- for this writer and many more who attended Friday night's Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert at Music Hall.
The second half comprised Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8, one hour and fifteen minutes of rapt listening for a crowd that included a larger than average number of college students.
Young people flocking to Bruckner is counter-intuitive, considering the attention span required. And in fact, the young people were attracted by the CSO's special "College Nite" discount ($10 admission, including a free party with music director Paavo Järvi, CSO musicians and guest artists). However, no one was complaining, and the accolades heaped on the performance included bravos, whistles and cheers from young and old alike.

German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott, guest artist in Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1, also enjoyed their approval with a performance bristling with virtuosity and romantic color. It was her U.S. debut.
Just 21, Ott already has an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, for whom she will record the Liszt First Piano Concerto. Coincidentally, Jarvi will record Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, of which he is also music director, as part of an ongoing Bruckner cycle.
Stunning in a red, strapless gown, her long black hair flowing down her back, Ott tore into the piano with a kind of controlled abandon. Her long fingers traveled nimbly over the keys, and even when applying the softest touch at the lowest dynamic level, she achieved wonderful clarity and projection.
The CSO accompaniment was star bright, too, with solos by Richard Hawley (principal clarinet), Jasmine Choi (associate principal flute), Tom Sherwood (associate principal French horn) and Lon Bussell (associate principal oboe). All received a warm reception and enthusiastic applause.
Järvi led the CSO in Bruckner's 1890 revised version of the Eighth Symphony (edited by Leopold Nowack). To do so required a huge brass section, 17 in all, including nine horns (four of them doubling on alto and tenor "Wagner" tubas), four trumpets, three trombones and bass tuba. A full complement of strings (60 players), triple woodwinds, three harps, timpani and percussion, in addition to the luxurious brass, made for a glorious sound in Music Hall, whose three-second acoustic decay time gave the music a warm halo.
The CSO knows this music, having recorded it for Telarc under CSO music director emeritus Jesus Lopez-Cobos in 1993 and performed it most recently with Lopez-Cobos at Music Hall in October, 2005.
Järvi built brilliantly on this foundation to achieve a performance wreathed in greatness. It had everything: pacing, precision, color and a kind of undefinable spiritual quality that touched the heart as well as the ear.
The first movement, much like the opening of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, emerged from vagueness and uncertainty to bold and stirring, before coming to an atypical quiet ending.
The Scherzo, one of Bruckner's cosmic dances, spun gleefully on its axis, relaxing somewhat in the Trio where the harps could be heard and textures took on the transparency that is fundamental to the "Cincinnati sound" under Järvi.
The soul of the symphony resides in the 25-minute Adagio, the longest of the four movements and one of the longest of all symphonic slow movements. It began with the utmost tenderness, the initial violin melody -- one note that dips gently up and back over a syncopated accompaniment -- drawn out lovingly by Järvi. From there, the music built to a climax, complete with harp arpeggios, for an transcendental effect.
The second theme, announced by the cellos, had a heart-clutching quality, enhanced by soft tracery in flute and solo violin (associate concertmaster Rebecca Culnan). Principal hornist Elizabeth Freimuth, who soared throughout the concert, joined in a gorgeous restatement of the opening theme, while the Wagner tubas cast a plangent effect over all. Notable throughout this movement was the silken texture of the violins, and there was a remarkable moment where the cellos playing alone -- in the palm of Järvi's hand, as it were -- sounded like one instrument. The end, with just Wagner tubas and violins, was sublime.
Galloping rhythms, brass fanfares and sharp strokes of timpani (Patrick Schleker) opened the final movement. It was good to hear the CSO strings at full strength here (several positions have been left open through attrition), their lush sound perfectly counterbalanced against the winds and brasses. Järvi paced the course of events beautifully, as themes from the other movements returned. The final buildup was breathtaking, with the galloping rhythms and fanfares utilized at the beginning heard again in a final affirmation of glory.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. January 23 at Music Hall. Tickets are $10-$95 at (513) 381-3300 or order online at
For a stimulating discussion of Bruckner and his music, attend the pre-concert lecture with CSO violist Robert Howes and CSO assistant conductor Ken Lam at 7 p.m. in the Music Hall auditorium.

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