Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Ma, Järvi Star in Dvorak Gala

Music in
by Mary Ellyn Hutton
May 4, 2011

It was a special gala performance with the CSO led by music director Paavo Järvi and the hall was packed (a sell-out months ago). Several hundred people gathered on Fountain Square for a live video feed of the performance. It was all-Dvorak, and nothing could have been better for what turned into a highly emotional evening. Ma inhabited the Cello Concerto as no one else can in a performance long to be remembered. The concert opened on a truly electric note with his festive, robust “Carnival Overture and closed with -- what else? -- Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. All told, it was a performance that proved conclusively that live in the concert hall beats a recording any day.

But that was not all. There was plenty of subtext during the evening: Järvi, who leaves the orchestra this season after a starry ten-year tenure, was named conductor laureate, complete with a lengthy recital of “whereases” by board president Melody Sawyer Richardson. The musicians got their own standing ovation prior to the announcement, which was made after intermission. There were even “boos” when CSO president Trey Devey referred to Jarvi’s departure.

Most of all, however, there was music and of the enriched and superbly collaborative kind that Järvi and the orchestra have nurtured together (amazingly, the concert was prepared on just one rehearsal). One knew from the downbeat of “Carnival” that this was going to be one of those special evenings.

Ma mesmerized the audience with the first intense stroke of his bow in the Dvorak concerto. It was a highly personal reading, yet one that drew every member of the orchestra into it with him. He treated it like chamber music, often turning his head to foster closer communication with a solo wind player or smiling broadly at concertmaster Timothy Lees.

There was passion and there was finesse, never more so than in the exquisite ending of the second movement. There was a moment of overwhelming beauty as Lees and Ma drew out ribbons of melody together approaching the end of the finale, and the coda itself (concluding section) was achingly beautiful.

The effusive cellist shook hands and exchanged embraces all around as he took his bows, finally succumbing to the applause with an encore, Bouree from Bach’s Suite in C Major for Unaccompanied Cello. Never has Bach been so suave.

The “New World” Symphony has been a kind of thread throughout Jarvi’s time in Cincinnati. He and the orchestra have performed it numerous times at home and on tour. And yet it was like hearing it for the first time Tuesday evening. Järvi threw himself into it with gusto, crafting the kind of highly individual performance that can only be had by a conductor with his own orchestra. Never has the flute solo in the first movement exposition been so tenderly rendered as by principal flutist Randolph Bowman (even more moving on its repeat).

The Largo was filled with longing, even desolation (if that were not too strong a word). English hornist Christopher Philpotts shaped the famous solo to perfection and the brasses sounded their noble chorale with majesty. The ending, where solo strings echo the English horn theme in a halting manner, was heart-breaking, with soft strokes of double bass at the end.

Järvi had fun with the last two movements. The scherzo (Molto Vivace) had a bubbly, conversational quality, with a bit of dancing on the podium to boot. The finale built to a grand, organ-like conclusion, with fine solo work by the French horns and clarinetist Jonathan Gunn. Reaction was immediate and noisy. This is one of the all-time favorite symphonies and the crowd made that, plus their affection for Järvi and the CSO, clear with a prolonged standing ovation.

Järvi leads the CSO in the last two concerts of the season at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. May 13 and 14 at Music Hall. Tickets, beginning at $10, are available at or by calling (513) 381-3300.

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