Sunday, May 09, 2010

CSO ends season on familiar notes

Mary Ellyn Hutton • Cincinnati Enquirer contributor • May 7, 2010

Music that you knew – or thought you knew – made up the final concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra season Thursday night at Music Hall.

Led by music director Paavo Järvi, it was an arch-romantic program including some of the most familiar moments in classical music. “Ride of the Valkyries” from Wagner’s “Ring” cycle was one-third of five orchestral excerpts from the “Ring” heard in the concert.

Another was Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. However, as performed by guest artist Alexander Toradze, it was almost like hearing it for the first time. The well-known introduction, with the piano accompanying the orchestra, grabbed listeners by the ears as usual, but when Toradze re-stated the theme, it became soft and tender. The entire first movement had a deep emotive aspect, with effective voicing of the piano part, liberal use of pedal and exquisite dovetailing of phrases by Toradze, Järvi and the orchestra.

The second movement had a gentle, faraway aspect. Flutist Jasmine Choi’s opening solo floated on the air, while principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn, who seems able to draw upon the entire aural spectrum, crafted an uncanny tone to complement Toradze. Details rarely heard emerged in the finale, where the CSO’s crisp articulation closely matched Toradze’s. As if it had been his goal throughout, he poured all of his ardor into the final melody, then charged lickety-split to the end. Bear hugs, bravos and a standing ovation followed, but no encore.

Järvi assembled his “Ring” selections into five-movements, without regard to the sequence of events in the operas. This worked better in theory than practice, not only for those familiar with the “Ring,” who would expect the “Immolation Scene” from “Götterdämmerung” to be the conclusion, but on purely musical grounds. “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla” from “Rheingold” seemed a lightweight, tacked-on end after the wrenching “Siegried’s Death and Funeral Music” (Götterdämmerung) that preceded it.

Still, if continuity did not bother you, there were plenty of moments to savor. “Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Scene” (“Die Walküre”) made a thrilling opener, beginning with the huge rush of emotion preceding the god’s heartbreaking “Lebwohl” (“Farewell”) to his daughter Brünnhilde, followed by the flickering “Fire Music” with harpists Gillian Benet Sella and Liya Huang.

“Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” (“Götterdämmerung”) broke with the CSO horns and clarinets (principal Richard Hawley, with Ronald Aufmann on bass clarinet). Principal French horn Elizabeth Freimuth had a star turn in “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” where she exited quickly to sound Siegfried’s horn calls from the wings.

Järvi glanced mischievously over his shoulder at the audience as he cued “Ride of the Valkyries.” This was the best performed excerpt, no doubt because the orchestra is more accustomed to playing it than other parts of the “Ring.”

Principal trumpet Robert Sullivan (sounding the sword leitmotif) and the entire brass section shone in “Siegfried’s Death,” a powerful excerpt framed by the squirrely death motif in the low strings. As for Valhalla, it did not burn this time and the concert closed over the rainbow bridge.

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