by Mary Ellyn Hutton
01/28/2011 - & January 29, 2011
Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto No. 4 in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 58
Claude Debussy: Printemps
Gabriel Fauré: Requiem in D Minor, Op. 48
Jonathan Bailey Holland: The Party Starter
André Watts (piano), Laura Claycomb (soprano), Stephen Powell (baritone)
May Festival Chorus, Robert Porco (director), Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (conductor)
As originally conceived for chorus and small ensemble (violas, cellos, basses, harp, timpani, organ and solo violin), Fauré’s Requiem is out-sized by Cincinnati’s 3,516-seat Music Hall. However, there is a full orchestra version (requested by Fauré’s publisher) that fits more easily, and it was this one which received its premiere on the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Music Hall series January 28.
Headliner for the matinee concert was pianist André Watts, who brought his considerable charisma and formidable technique to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major. Receiving its world premiere was Jonathan Bailey Holland’s The Party Starter, a fanfare commissioned by the orchestra to honor music director Paavo Järvi, who completes his decade-long tenure with the CSO this season. Finally, receiving only its second performance in the orchestra’s 116-year history (the first was 1983), was Debussy’s Printemps.
Järvi’s approach to the Requiem was sensitive and precise, rarely allowing the onstage forces to overtax Fauré’s gentle, consolatory music (the sublime “Amen” that concludes the Offertorium transgressed a bit here). For their part, the 122-voice May Festival Chorus sang in pure, unforced tones, careful to preserve as much as possible the work’s intimate character. Music Hall’s fine acoustics supported their endeavors and fostered a blend that felt comfortably at home, despite the capacious venue. Soloist Stephen Powell’s mellow baritone fit both the soothing Hostias and the urgent Libera me, where Fauré allows the Last Judgment to intrude, if just momentarily. Soprano Laura Claycomb’s creamy soprano graced the Pie Jesu nicely (the calm was broken only by her gown - long, black and hot-pink against her red hair).
One missed the solo violin in the Sanctus, but the violin section sang as one over the violas and cellos, and the brass were just heavy enough on the climactic Hosanna. The fullness of possibility and the necessity of restraint came together beautifully in the Agnus Dei with the sopranos’ feather-soft entrance on Lux Aeterna, which built gradually through fortissimo brass to the repeat of Requiem. The concluding In Paradisum had a childlike innocence, ending with a long-held Requiem, which floated ethereally into the hall.
As one of the royals of the piano, Watts not only filled the hall on a snowy day, but held his listeners in the palm of his hand. And what hands, which filled Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with poetry as well as motion. In this, he was partnered fully by Järvi and the CSO, who provided a pinpoint precise, colorfully expressive accompaniment. The opening Allegro had lyricism, majesty and a powerfully musical cadenza. The stern dialogue of the slow movement became truly pacific at the end, and the Rondo finale sparkled. There were some remarkable blends throughout the concerto - of piano and strings, piano and winds and in the Rondo, of piano and solo cello.
Debussy’s Printemps, complete with four-hand piano, harp and a huge orchestra, got a splendid reading, so much so that it was easy to believe it is part of the CSO’s everyday repertoire. Järvi (who is also music director of the Orchestre de Paris) knew how to make it shine, keeping every detail in place without losing momentum. Thus, the breezy melody at the beginning gave way to more animated music and a wealth of inflections. Järvi had fun with the second movement Modéré, where the jaunty theme morphs at the end into a precursor of Richard Rodgers’ Victory at Sea.
Holland’s The Party Starter is one of several Järvi 10th-anniversary fanfares to be premiered by the CSO this season. Jazz informs it, from the opening lick for piano, to an arching melody in the strings, brassy syncopation, snare drum and a final, affirmative piano chord. In the spirit of a party, it was meant to “inspire movement,” Holland said.