Monday, April 14, 2003

CONCERT REVIEW: Condemned To Repeat Itself

Condemned To Repeat Itself
New York
Carnegie Hall
Errki-Sven Tuur: Exodus
Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Vadim Repin (violin)
Cincinnati Symphony
Paavo Jarvi (conductor)

By Frederick L. Kirshnit

I. Baltic Night

"Where are the positive ideas in this symphony?"
--Boris Yarustovsky

Paavo Jarvi has proven to be the best catch of the recent trawling for conductors by major American orchestras. While audiences in New York and Cleveland have been disappointed, those in Philadelphia uneasy, and Boston just impatient, the residents of Cincinnati have taken great pride and pleasure in welcoming such a dynamic and results-oriented maestro to their oldest symphony hall in the nation. Nurtured in a great tradition since birth, but still young enough to challenge it, Mr. Jarvi has made his mark decisively and with great panache. The orchestra has never sounded better and presents interesting and varied programming on a regular basis. Demonstrating deep commitment, Jarvi has just signed a contract extension that lasts until 2009.

One of his unique qualifications is his closeness to a contemporary movement otherwise unheralded on these shores. Like his father, Jarvi feels a deep kinship to the music of the Baltic region and is personally involved in its current propagation and husbandry
(perhaps it is no coincidence that the other most exciting large ensemble in the States these days is the L.A. Phil, led by the young Finn Esa-Pekka Salonen). As a fitting curtain raiser to an exploration of the darker side of the aurora borealis, maestro began with a New York premiere by fellow Estonian Erkki-Sven Tuur, who was on hand for this superb rendering of his anxious music (decidedly of the Herrmann-Hitchcock school). The piece may have been repetitive and built around only one large crescendo, but no one could quarrel with its eloquent presentation.

I like my Sibelius dark (my favorite is the Fourth Symphony) and so was in my glory listening to Vadim Repin interact with this energetic group. Truly dug in like anteaters, the strings burrowed down to a level of severity and depression that was almost too much to bear. Jarvi encouraged this heavy accenting, himself exhorting with fists and crouches the deep violins, sounding for all the world like violas, as they tore through the staccato parts to uncover the throbbing emotional core of this most introspective of concerti. Repin was magnificent, dignified and strident, stentorian and yet delicate, impassive in soldierly stance but producing a heartmelting vibrato when appropriate. This was simply spectacular musicmaking.

Sir Georg Solti used to use the allegro from the Shostakovich 10 as an encore when his Chicago Symphony toured in Europe. I still cannot fathom how they could perform it with so much adrenaline after an already exhausting evening, but there it is, guaranteeing a wild audience response. The danger of excerpting one movement is that over time it becomes the signature of the work, outshining its sister sections to the exclusion of the shape of the whole (this happens quite often in Shostakovich: the eerily similar allegro non troppo of the eighth, the finale of the fifth, the bullet-riddled opening of the seventh). Perhaps the greatest aspect of this particular Cincinnati effort was the overall architecture of the entire edifice, the poetic first movement expansive in its landscape, the neurasthenic third section as fragile as a spider's web and yet as tightly coiled as a rattlesnake, the final pages grand and forceful, dripping with tears. The allegro itself was thrilling, not perhaps as fast as some versions (although close on the radar gun), but extraordinarily precise and moving. The conductor acknowledged many individuals in the prolonged ovation afterwards, but the biggest roar of all was for the orchestra as a body. I used to travel to Cincinnati on a regular basis. A recent peek at their new season makes me think that a return visit would be highly rewarding.

This was a most intense and uncompromising concert, exploring the depths of the soul. It seemed fitting to walk out of Carnegie Hall one hour before the advent of April and be greeted by spring snow.