Friday, January 08, 2010

CSO shows no signs of sadness

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer• jgelfand@enquirer.com
January 8, 2010

A day after announcing that he will leave at the end of next season, Paavo Järvi led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the kind of electrifying performance that has defined his tenure for the past nine years.

Even though some orchestra members later expressed a feeling of sadness at Järvi’s decision, their playing was truly impressive in the varied program of this morning’s concert.

It was just the kind of program in which Järvi has excelled: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 – with a “thunder and lightning” Russian pianist Denis Matsuev – Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, and the orchestra’s first performance of Messiaen’s “Le tombeau resplendissant,” an extraordinary find.

Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 in D Minor is one of the masterpieces of the piano repertoire. Its fiendishly difficult virtuosities are matched against moments of lyrical beauty and Russian soul.

From his performance on Friday, it is clear that Matsuev is a giant of the keyboard. He projected a powerful sound, yet he found warmth in every phrase. Even the most treacherous passages were tackled with clarity and precision.

Rachmaninoff’s romantic themes were deeply felt, and he illuminated the melodies through the thickest textures. Indeed, his control was impressive – his touch, tone and how he was able to color a moment. But it was also wonderfully spontaneous. The first movement cadenza, for instance, was supercharged, and he summoned such massive sonorities, you half expected strings to start popping out of the piano. Then to have such power tempered with the serene beauty of Jasmine Choi’s flute, or Thomas Sherwood’s horn – it simply doesn’t get much better than this.

The slow movement was impassioned, and the tarantella-like scherzo at its center flew like lightning. The finale, too, was adrenalin-charged. As he climbed mountain after mountain, it became a feat of endurance – but also one of stunning musicality. In the final surge, the pianist seemed ready to fly off the edge of his seat.
Järvi, often turning to watch his hands fly across the keys, was with his every note, and swept up the strings gloriously.

Messiaen’s “The Resplendent Tomb,” which came after intermission, was, as the conductor said beforehand, “strange and wonderful at the same time.” With its accompanying poem, it was a fascinating and personal look at the composer’s view of death.

In four parts, its hallmarks included aggressive, rhythmic chords and complex rhythms – bringing to mind the primitive power of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Yet its lyrical moments were truly beautiful, and Jarvi was masterful at creating atmosphere. Dwight Parry’s sinuous oboe theme unfolded against an ethereal backdrop. The mystical ending featured an endless melody in violas and cellos that finally arched heavenward.

Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, which concluded the morning, was pure joy. Järvi’s view crackled with energy, and the scampering mood and lively tempos reminded one that this piece was written at the time of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.”

The slow moment, too was approached with operatic beauty, and also displayed an element of Mozart’s humor. The orchestra played like a precision instrument, yet with spirit and joy.

Several audience members said they felt that this could be nearing the end of a golden era for the orchestra.

“It’s devastating,” said Eleanor McCombe, 76, of Montgomery, a subscriber for 50 years. “But he just needs to probably go on with his career. We’re going to miss him terribly.”

Dave Crafts of Mount Adams agreed. “I’m sorry to see him go. He’s been great for the symphony. Any time you lose a person of his caliber and his talent, it’s really unfortunate. But it has to happen. It does happen.”

Friday’s snowy weather may have played a role in the small crowd, but this is a concert not to miss.

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