Sunday, February 21, 2010

Symphony, violinist collaborate glowingly

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer
February 20, 2010

Composer Gustav Mahler credited his classmate Hans Rott with founding "the New Symphony as I understand it."

On Friday, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, fresh from a performance in Carnegie Hall on Monday night, performed Rott's Symphony in E Major. It is a masterpiece in the full-blown romantic tradition which, in fact, inspired the creative genius of Mahler's own symphonies.

It was a revelation to discover this 19th-century symphony, which had lain forgotten for a century until the Philharmonia Orchestra at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music gave its first performances and recorded it under Gerhard Samuel in 1989.

The evening's other revelation was the 32-year-old Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, one of the most exquisite performers on the concert stage today, in the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major.

If only there were more people in the hall to hear this remarkable concert. The 3,400-seat hall was less than half full.

Jansen, a superstar in The Netherlands, toured with the Cincinnati Symphony on its last European tour in 2008. She gave the kind of performance you never wanted to end, because of her combination of warmth, ease and expressive freedom.

From the outset, she projected a sweet, golden tone and enormous beauty of line. She took her time to linger on the lyrical phrases, with romantic phrasing that reminded one of a bygone era of violin playing. Her impassioned moments were exciting, as she dug into her strings, hair flying. The first movement's cadenza was deeply moving as she brought it to a magical summit in the stratosphere of her instrument.

With Järvi coaxing warmth and beautiful sonorities from the orchestra, this was a collaboration that glowed. Dwight Parry's oboe theme at the start of the slow movement was warmly phrased, and the violinist answered with a sweet, refined tone. Sparks flew in the gypsy finale. She approached it with spontaneity and irresistible freshness, and the orchestra gave her red-blooded support.

Rott's Symphony in E, written at age 20 (he died tragically at 25) is an astonishing find for lovers of Bruckner and Mahler, as well as Brahms and Wagner - composers he knew, admired and studied with. The hour-long symphony, in four movements, opened with an expansive melody for trumpet and horn that was noble and broad, and grew to a great anthem in glowing timbres.

This was the sound world we have come to know as Mahler - with marches, folk themes, a rustic "landler," brass chorales and distant fanfares. The second movement ended in a pure-toned brass chorale of extraordinary, Bruckner-like spirituality. The third was uncanny for its prediction of what would come later, in Mahler's First Symphony, and included echoes of old Vienna in a waltz.

The finale had a foot in the world of Wagner or Brahms, an expansive hymn colored by horn calls and brass fanfares.

The musicians performed it superbly, with heroic performances by trumpeter Robert Sullivan and hornist Elizabeth Freimuth, who played nearly the entire time. Järvi led with intensity and drive through the robust buildups, and with affection and detail in the lyrical ones.

Go to this one.

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