Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bruckner's "cathedral of sound"

Janelle Gelfand, Arts in Focus Blog
Cincinnati Enquirer
January 23, 2010

Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 on Friday. This performance will be remembered as one of the finest of his tenure here in Cincinnati. Bruckner’s symphonies have been described as “cathedrals in sound.” Few orchestral experiences can surpass Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, for not only the thrilling sound of the Cincinnati brass, but also for the transcendent beauty and power of Paavo Järvi’s reading with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

The monumental work, which had 100 musicians on Music Hall’s stage on Friday, was paired with a glittering showpiece in the first half. Pianist Alice Sara Ott, 21, made her United States debut in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

The concert marked Järvi’s first performance with the Cincinnati Symphony of Bruckner’s Eighth. It was inspired, beautifully shaped and propelled with such sweeping momentum, that the listener barely noticed 75 minutes had elapsed at its conclusion.

The Austrian composer, an organist, was deeply religious. There is something awe-inspiring about his musical universe, with its massive organ-like sonorities, scored in the full-blown, Wagnerian style, which drop suddenly to moments of the most intimate beauty.

The orchestra included three harps, brass and timpani arrayed across the back, and nine French horns, four of whom doubled on Wagner tubas.

The outer movements had a kind of raw power, with the conductor always pressing ahead. Yet he also stood back to allow the artistry of the wind and horn soloists to shine, or to coax a glowing sound from the strings against the three harps. (Among the many fine soloists, principal horn Elizabeth Freimuth must be singled out.)

The conductor plunged without a break into the scherzo. Its pulse-quickening tempo gave a new brilliance to the brass, and he drew an extraordinary sound from the basses, cellos and violas. For once, this movement made sense.

The heart of the work is the famous Adagio, and Järvi lavished care on every phrase. His view had breadth and spaciousness, with wave upon wave of glowing sonorities colored by choirs of horns and Wagner tubas. The orchestra played magnificently, and the movement drew to its final summit thrillingly.

The attack of the brass in the finale was fierce, yet the warmth of the strings was always audible. No one who witnessed it will ever forget the driving power, precision and glory of this performance.

In the first half, Ott displayed stunning technique in Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major. The pianist, of German and Japanese heritage, is an immense talent who effortlessly tackled cascades of glittering runs and was able to summon beautiful sonorities as she did it.

There were times when I wished for more weight and poetic feeling in the lyrical themes. But her interpretation was fresh and not at all showy, even though this is mainly a brilliant showpiece. Järvi’s orchestra supported her well.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. Tickets: 513-381-3300,

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