Saturday, May 07, 2011

Clarinetist wows in Jarvi, CSO's all-American evening
by Janelle Gelfand

Nothing was predictable about Paavo Järvi’s all-American program with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on Friday – from the sensational Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst, who made his debut in Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, to the symphonic blast that ended Edgard Varèse’s “Amériques.”

The eclectic program of Americana included Three Dance Episodes from Bernstein’s Broadway show “On the Town,” a movement from Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 4, and the premiere of a new fanfare by New Yorker Charles Coleman, “P.J. Fanfare.”

But first, Fröst. As a soloist, he’s mesmerizing to watch – a genius who can dazzle with every kind of pyrotechnic imaginable, and do it with the charisma of a rock star. Tall and wiry, he looked like a rock star, too, in his white-trimmed suit by Swedish designer Lars Wallin, and he danced along as he played.

Copland wrote his Clarinet Concerto for Benny Goodman (who gave the Cincinnati premiere in 1963). It’s an appealing mix of Copland’s folk-like lyricism and exuberant jazz.

In the languid opening, Fröst projected a haunting tone and phrased with enormous beauty, bending, turning, and swaying with his clarinet. He made the most of the range of jazzy moods in the finale, from quirky to swinging, and his playing was a tour-de-force. He danced his way through wide leaps from the basement to the stratosphere, and summoned a range of color, all the way to the final jazz “smear.”

Järvi and the orchestra matched the intensity and the fun, including slapping basses. For an encore, they collaborated in a medley of Klezmer dances, arranged by Fröst’s “little brother,” Goran.

The clarinetist, who is 40, transformed himself, finding the soulful Klezmer spirit with every imaginable effect – trilling and fluttering up and down his clarinet with phenomenal speed, bending his sound, whispering, wailing and even seeming to sing (or perhaps growl) along with his instrument. It accelerated into a raucous dance that brought listeners to their feet with a roar.

The evening opened with Coleman’s “P.J. Fanfare,” hailing Järvi’s 10th anniversary as music director and WGUC’s 50th anniversary. A sophisticated, attractive piece, it was busy, jaunty and jazzy. Like Coleman’s other works, his fanfare evoked the rhythm and life of the big city, and the orchestra played it well.|head

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