Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beethoven in Paris

Music in Cincinnati
by Mary Ellyn Hutton
March 12, 2011

Beethoven did it – and Bizet and Berlioz and the bravos earned by Paavo Järvi and the Orchestre de Paris during his first season as music director.

At a press conference March 11 at the Salle Pleyel, it was announced that Järvi, after only six months on the job, has renewed his commitment for another three years. His current contract, which expires in 2013, has been extended through the 2015-2016 season.

The news came the morning after the second of two concerts at the Salle Pleyel featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, the orchestra’s first Beethoven symphony under Järvi. (The Estonian born conductor has won widespread acclaim for his cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, which he also heads.)

The concert opened with Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House Overture,” a revelation for its pep, power and, not incidentally, phenomenal bassoon playing. (Just one example of the remarkable wind playing heard all evening.) Also on the program was Berg’s Violin Concerto with soloist Gidon Kremer.

Kremer’s performance of the Berg drew sustained applause from the crowd, who simply would not let him go, rhythmic clapping and all. And for good reason, for here is an artist who can say a lot with a precisely centered tone and focused delivery. The Concerto, “in memory of an angel” (dedicatee Manon Gropius, 18), is full of emotion, but often of the more reflective kind. This had a keen edge in his playing, as did the surges of romance now and then. He sent it off at the end with a prayerful high harmonic that seemed directed toward heaven itself. His encore was an adaptation for violin of the fourth (Lento, Meditativo) of Astor Piazzolla's Four Tango Etudes for Flute, simple and touching.

In the Beethoven Four, Järvi demonstrated the qualities that, at 48, make him one of the world’s finest conductors: close attention to detail within a clear, architectural framework; sculpting with dynamics, often in high relief; the ability and daring to pull off a surprise maneuver when the spirit moves him; and most tellingly, a strong bond of respect and trust with the musicians.

The slow, expectant introduction led to a vigorous Allegro vivace, where the emphasis was on all the right syllables. There was an astonishing moment when he took the orchestra to near Absolute Zero audibility and brought them back with ease and grace. The slow movement (Adagio) was both affecting and grand, and again there were breathtaking moments: high clarinet against strings, gemlike in its purity and expression, and timpani played with incredible softness near the end. Every note – and silence between notes – was perfectly in place.

After an exhilarating scherzo (Allegro vivace), the orchestra whipped agilely into the controlled ruckus of the finale. (Allegro ma non troppo, taken more briskly than some). The strings crackled here no less than the winds, and there was both drama and humor in the suspenseful ending. Here Järvi drew out the tempo teasingly, then let the musicians charge full force to deliver the final word.

Audience response was exuberant, almost ecstatic, as they made their approval vocal with repeated shouts of approval. In a compliment not unfamiliar with the Cincinnati Symphony (which he leaves the end of this season after 10 years), the Paris musicians refused to stand when he waved them to their feet, thus according him a solo bow. Hand over his heart, he stepped to the podium and bowed to them and to the audience.

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