Saturday, October 09, 2004

CONCERT REVIEW: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Paavo Jarvi creates seismic jolt in Orchestra Hall
By John von Rhein, Tribune music critic
Chicago Tribune, October 9, 2004

Scanning the shocking number of empty seats at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's first Thursday night concert of the season in Symphony Center, you had to feel sorry for those who stayed away.

They missed a terrific program that went from cool Debussy to hot Bartok to electrifying Nielsen. It introduced an impressive conductor and an exciting soloist to Orchestra Hall. And it proved just the sort of seismic event to jolt the CSO back on track after its recent spate of podium cancellations.

Imagine a French tone poem, a Hungarian concerto and a Danish symphony played by an Estonian conductor and a German violinist with an American orchestra. That's what Thursday's audience heard when conductor Paavo Jarvi and violinist Christian Tetzlaff made their downtown debuts with the orchestra in an evening of masterpieces from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Not many conductors can front the mighty CSO for the first time and elicit the deeply communicative music-making Jarvi did. Son of the conductor Neeme Jarvi, he is in his fourth season as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony and, on the basis of his fine showing Thursday, can be considered a plausible contender for Daniel Barenboim's job here in 2006.

The man is all music, refreshingly self-effacing in manner, as secure in his command of structure as in the details, who gets his ideas across with a firm beat and one of the most expressive left hands of any symphonic conductor today.

Jarvi began with an unusually elastic reading of Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. The music flowed in an unbroken arc of weightless sound, with Mathieu Dufour spinning the flute solo with his usual silvery delicacy.

Nothing Tetzlaff has performed at Ravinia quite prepared one for the sheer adrenaline rush of his Bartok Second Concerto. He attacked the opening movement with a controlled ferocity that kept the music, and the listener too, poised on the knife blade of anticipation. Words like "forceful" and "intense" kept coming to mind as the young German violinist answered the orchestral guffaws with furious passagework. Yet how beautifully he savored the dreamy lyricism and filigreed variations. To Tetzlaff's credit, he played Bartok's original coda to the finale, which is almost never heard.

One of the best concerto performances the CSO has given us in a long while earned Tetzlaff a roaring, standing ovation. He rewarded the crowd with a superlative reading of the "Allemande" from J.S. Bach's B-Minor Solo Partita.

The more I hear Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 5, the more I am convinced it is one of the great 20th Century symphonies. Jarvi's riveting account (even finer than his new Telarc recording with the Cincinnati orchestra) reaffirmed its stature. The music is all about construction and destruction, and Jarvi threw himself into it with such vigor that at one point the baton flew out of his hand into the second violins. The orchestra played as if their lives were hanging in the balance. That's inspiration. That's leadership. We must have Paavo Jarvi back.

CONCERT REVIEW: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

First CSO stint shouldn't be Jarvi's last
By Wynne Delacoma
Chicago Sun-Times, October 9, 2004

HIGHLY recommended
When: 8 tonight
Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan
Tickets: $17-$110
Call: (312) 294-3000

The unsettled atmosphere at Symphony Center that included a spate of conductor cancellations during the first weeks of the season isn't entirely over yet.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians and management are still negotiating a new players' contract to replace the one that expired last month. And music director Daniel Barenboim, who canceled several dates due to back problems, is determined to conduct as scheduled in late October.

The orchestra typically begins its concert weeks on Thursdays, but in part because of the Jewish holidays, this week's Thursday performance was the first of the CSO's nearly month-old season. As if to celebrate a welcome return to routine, the orchestra gave a stimulating concert under the baton of Paavo Jarvi, music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, who was making his CSO debut.

Thursday's audience knew something special was in the air with the supple, expansive performance of Debussy's languorous Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Principal flute Mathieu Dufour brought his signature golden warmth to the opening solo, but the seamless way Michael Henoch's more penetrating oboe picked up and extended the flute line was magical.

Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 2 is both astringent and passionate, and soloist Christian Tetzlaff found just the right combination of anxiety and serenity in its two large movements. Jarvi and the orchestra performed Bartok's darkly mordant opening pages with an energy and drive that made them especially ominous. In the concerto's hallucinatory moments, Tetzlaff's violin turned woozy and discordant, reeling against the brooding, jumpy orchestra.

Carl Nielsen's large-scale Symphony No. 5 sounded surprisingly intimate at times. The snare drum's martial tattoo was as dry and relentless as machinegun fire, while stammering violins stormed and buzzed like a horde of insects.

Jarvi is a conductor to watch. Cincinnati may have him signed up through 2008-09, but he should be on the CSO's radar as it searches for a successor to Barenboim, who will be leaving at the end of the 2005-06 season. Conductors of Jarvi's caliber are a rare breed.