Monday, February 24, 2014

Paavo, CSO shine in Mahler’s Fourth

Cincinnati.com
Janelle Gelfand
21/02/2014

Paavo Järvi reached heaven in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 even before the finale, which describes a child’s view of heaven.
In his return to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on Thursday, Järvi’s reading of Mahler’s Fourth was a reminder of his remarkable interpretations of Mahler, as well as how well this orchestra plays under his baton.
The orchestra’s music director for a decade, now music director laureate, Järvi knows how to elicit playing that is precise, and yet also projects a spirit of freshness and spontaneity. That was evident from the first notes of the Love Scene from Berlioz’s “Roméo et Juliette” which opened the program, a performance that was memorable for its gentle beauty.
That vivid musicality was richly apparent in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major, which came after intermission.
Gustav Mahler is known for his sprawling symphonies, calling for massive forces and summoning a universe of sounds and emotions. But his Fourth Symphony is unexpectedly intimate. On a smaller scale, it clocks in at just under an hour.
The finale is a vocal setting for soprano soloist of “The Heavenly Life” from the folk collection known as “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” Unfortunately, this was the only weak link in Thursday’s performance. When soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian bowed out due to illness, Heidi Grant Murphy stepped in with about a day’s notice, and the result was unsettled.
At the start, the listener was immediately immersed in the Austrian composer’s world, merging nature sounds and celestial sleigh-bells. In Järvi’s hands, textures were light and warmly atmospheric, yet there were also moments of surprising exuberance. The conductor lingered on lyrical themes, and allowed every detail of the music to shine through.
In Mahler, sinister overtones are never far away. In the second movement, concertmaster Timothy Lees picked up a fiddle tuned a step higher, for an eerie solo in what the composer described as a “dance of death.”
What followed next was one of the most sublime moments in all of music. Järvi found a depth to the beauty of the slow movement, and also caught the underlying sadness that colors so much of Mahler’s music. It was enhanced by a warmly shaped oboe theme (Lon Bussell). The audience didn’t breathe.
Throughout its many moods, the orchestra rose to the occasion wonderfully, with fine contributions from soloists and a sheen in the strings. A dramatic burst of brass and timpani introduced the finale as Murphy made her entrance. It’s too bad that her pure, light soprano failed to project in her mid-range, but her high notes soared.
In the evening’s first half, 24-year-old pianist Zhang Zuo put her dazzling technique to work in Mendelssohn’s Concerto No. 1 in G Minor. A native of Shenzhen, China, she already has won a fistful of competitions.
Her reading was exuberant, brilliant and very fast – especially the lightning-quick finale. She was able to leap through virtuosities, smiling all the while. Still, for me, her touch was often steely and lacked the sparkle that makes Mendelssohn such a joy to hear.
http://cincinnati.com/blogs/arts/2014/02/21/paavo-cso-shine-in-mahlers-fourth/

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