Monday, August 11, 2014

All Brahms, by the (Smaller) Numbers Mostly Mozart, With the Conductor Paavo Jarvi

NYTimes.com
DAVID ALLEN
08/08/2014


Mostly Mozart Paavo Jarvi conducting the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen at Alice Tully Hall.CreditRuby Washington/The New York Times

The Mostly Mozart Festival has been offering more varied fare lately, but plenty of it still looks staid. At first glance, an overture-concerto-symphony program of Brahms, Brahms and Brahms — with encores of Brahms — appears conservative. But it didn’t turn out that way with Paavo Jarvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, who stormed through this Thursday concert at Alice Tully Hall with a rare intensity.


This team has impressed with vital, refreshing accounts of Beethoven symphonies influenced by the “historically informed performance” movement. A fashion for smaller orchestras, faster tempos and leaner sounds has changed the way audiences expect to hear the Classical repertoire in which Mostly Mozart specializes. The same can’t be said of Brahms, despite the efforts of conductors like Roger Norrington, whom Mr. Jarvi called “one of the great musical revolutionaries” in a recent Gramophone article.

Still, chamber orchestras like the Kammerphilharmonie are now justifiably tackling Brahms symphonies, with or without period trappings. Brahms himself conducted these works with remarkably varied forces, sometimes with fewer than 50 players, occasionally with over 100.

I’ve found that smaller orchestras can bring revelatory clarity and physical dynamism to this music. Three years ago at the London Proms, I heard Bernard Haitink lead the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in scintillating, intricate readings of the Third and Fourth Symphonies. Last year at Lincoln Center, Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra gave a bold account of the First.

None of those performances had anything like the fresh, commanding force of this Symphony No. 2. At the work’s premiere in 1877, the Vienna Philharmonic probably fielded nearly double the 51 players of the Kammerphilharmonie.

But beyond academic debate, numbers only matter in relation to the size of any given theater. Alice Tully Hall suited the Kammerphilharmonie well, helping it sound rich and powerful, even though vibrato was reserved for more lyrical moments. Transparent textures allowed unusual, chatty woodwind details to contribute to the raucous finale.

What made this performance extraordinary was Mr. Jarvi’s pliant pacing. As the musicologist Walter Frisch writes, “Brahms favored and himself employed considerable elasticity of tempo,” but few now dare the extremes of early-20th-century conductors like Max Fiedler and Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Mr. Jarvi did. It’s a brave strategy. One false move can render whole movements incoherent. When it works, when it sounds spontaneous and innate to the music rather than imposed upon it, symphonic development is raised to another level of drama. With risk came reward in this dark, ultimately triumphant reading from Mr. Jarvi and his virtuosic orchestra.

The “Academic Festival Overture” began the concert at a lively romp. The Piano Concerto No. 1, with the soloist Lars Vogt, was less convincing. There was too much flexibility and idiosyncrasy to go around, despite the affinity among pianist, conductor and orchestra. Mr. Vogt’s playing was dreamily effective in the slow movement, but alternately square and fussy elsewhere.

His encore, a waltz, benefited from greater restraint. And Mr. Jarvi led suave, showy encores of two “Hungarian Dances.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/arts/music/mostly-mozart-with-the-conductor-paavo-jarvi.html?smid=tw-nytimesmusic&seid=auto&_r=2

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