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
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
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
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
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.