Sunday, February 21, 2010

Symphony, violinist collaborate glowingly

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer
February 20, 2010

Composer Gustav Mahler credited his classmate Hans Rott with founding "the New Symphony as I understand it."

On Friday, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, fresh from a performance in Carnegie Hall on Monday night, performed Rott's Symphony in E Major. It is a masterpiece in the full-blown romantic tradition which, in fact, inspired the creative genius of Mahler's own symphonies.

It was a revelation to discover this 19th-century symphony, which had lain forgotten for a century until the Philharmonia Orchestra at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music gave its first performances and recorded it under Gerhard Samuel in 1989.

The evening's other revelation was the 32-year-old Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, one of the most exquisite performers on the concert stage today, in the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major.

If only there were more people in the hall to hear this remarkable concert. The 3,400-seat hall was less than half full.

Jansen, a superstar in The Netherlands, toured with the Cincinnati Symphony on its last European tour in 2008. She gave the kind of performance you never wanted to end, because of her combination of warmth, ease and expressive freedom.

From the outset, she projected a sweet, golden tone and enormous beauty of line. She took her time to linger on the lyrical phrases, with romantic phrasing that reminded one of a bygone era of violin playing. Her impassioned moments were exciting, as she dug into her strings, hair flying. The first movement's cadenza was deeply moving as she brought it to a magical summit in the stratosphere of her instrument.

With Järvi coaxing warmth and beautiful sonorities from the orchestra, this was a collaboration that glowed. Dwight Parry's oboe theme at the start of the slow movement was warmly phrased, and the violinist answered with a sweet, refined tone. Sparks flew in the gypsy finale. She approached it with spontaneity and irresistible freshness, and the orchestra gave her red-blooded support.

Rott's Symphony in E, written at age 20 (he died tragically at 25) is an astonishing find for lovers of Bruckner and Mahler, as well as Brahms and Wagner - composers he knew, admired and studied with. The hour-long symphony, in four movements, opened with an expansive melody for trumpet and horn that was noble and broad, and grew to a great anthem in glowing timbres.

This was the sound world we have come to know as Mahler - with marches, folk themes, a rustic "landler," brass chorales and distant fanfares. The second movement ended in a pure-toned brass chorale of extraordinary, Bruckner-like spirituality. The third was uncanny for its prediction of what would come later, in Mahler's First Symphony, and included echoes of old Vienna in a waltz.

The finale had a foot in the world of Wagner or Brahms, an expansive hymn colored by horn calls and brass fanfares.

The musicians performed it superbly, with heroic performances by trumpeter Robert Sullivan and hornist Elizabeth Freimuth, who played nearly the entire time. Järvi led with intensity and drive through the robust buildups, and with affection and detail in the lyrical ones.

Go to this one.

A Newcomer at the Cincinnati Symphony

Mary Ellen Hutton
Posted: February 20, 2010

Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra returned from Carnegie Hall (Feb. 15) to Music Hall this weekend to meet an old friend and a new one.

Guest artist Friday night at Music Hall (Feb. 19) was Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, who spent time on the road with the CSO in Europe a couple of seasons ago. Her vehicle this time was Brahms' Violin Concerto.

Newcomer on the program was Austrian composer Hans Rott, whose 1880 Symphony in E Major received its CSO premiere. Despite some tentative moments, it was an exhilarating ride over new terrain. With opening night under their belt, the orchestra is primed for a strong repeat tonight.

Jansen bowed in powerfully with the Brahms -- a little too powerfully for my taste. Though not lacking in beautiful moments, it had bruising ones, as well. It was as if Jansen were trying to fill every crevice in the huge hall -- which she did, though sometimes at the expense of tone quality and overall expressive impact.

The juxtaposition of Brahms and Rott was a clever touch, considering the history of the two men, who occupied different camps in musical Vienna in toward the end of the 19th century. Rott represented the music of the future -- later to morph into Mahler and his world-encompassing symphonies. Brahms was the conservative, upholding the legacy of Beethoven, and allegedly helped send Rott to his grave at age 25 with his criticism of the work.

The concert opened with Brahms. After a leisurely exposition by Järvi and the CSO, Jansen tore into it with a singeing opening statement that seemed more angry than assertive. She cooled down in the movement's more lyrical moments, where she projected a warm, more calibrated tone. Her cadenza brimmed with virtuosity, resulting in not a few broken bow hairs and a genuine need to re-tune before the second movement.

Principal oboist Dwight Parry -- who in the Prelude video shown before the concert, spoke of having the Concerto's most beautiful melody -- delivered it handsomely in the Adagio, where he and the woodwinds provided a heavenly introduction for the violin. Jansen's playing was lush and effusive here (give or take an iffy note in the stratosphere) and of such tonal robustness that one is tempted to believe she would make a violist of the first magnitude (the viola is the violin's larger sister).

The gypsy rondo finale was best matched to Jansen's super-heated approach, and she dug into the opening double stops with verve. She and Järvi enjoyed a little "lift" on the theme at one point, and there was a nice off-kilter feel where Brahms gives the theme a rhythmic re-alignment near the end.

Clocking in it at nearly an hour, Rott's Symphony comprised the second half of the concert. Interestingly, it was not the Cincinnati premiere of the work. That took place at on March 4, 1989 at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. That was also the world premiere. The CCM Philharmonia Orchestra led by Gerhard Samuel performed it at the International Mahler Festival in Paris on March 10, 1989 and on the world premiere recording (still in print and with a performance so accomplished one would not believe it was a conservatory orchestra).

Composed when he was 22, Rott's Symphony is a stunning work, obviously a goldmine for Mahler. They were classmates at the Vienna Conservatory and Mahler acknowledged his deep admiration for Rott's music. Just listen to the Austrian ländler that opens the second movement of Mahler's 1888 Symphony No. 1 and you know where he got it (Rott's third movement, almost note-for-note). There are myriad other similarities, too, including references to Mahler's Second Symphony (1894), whose "Day of Judgment" finale seems a fulfillment of what Rott suggests in his finale here.

But looking back through Mahler is unfair. What Rott opened up is a wonder unto itself. The Symphony opens with a trumpet solo -- delivered beautifully by CSO principal trumpeter Robert Sullivan -- against soft arpeggiated strings (Mahler opens his Symphony No. 5 similarly). Rott weaves this theme throughout the Symphony. It becomes marchlike in the development (another Mahlerian trait) and exhibits Rott's fondness for the triangle, which is omnipresent throughout the work.

The second movement is lush, romantic and anxious, looking back a bit to Schumann. It also reflects the influence of Rott's teacher, Anton Bruckner (Brahms' great rival). In Friday's performance, it grew ethereal at the end, with a soft chorale in the trumpets.

The scherzo third movement is Rott's masterpiece, comedy and tragedy co-mingled, with abundant brass (taxing for the CSO players), a "bird call" or two and again, lots of triangle (CSO percussionists David Fishlock and Bill Platt shared the honors here). It grew rollicking toward the end, with a final pile on of instrumental color and texture.

The finale opened with a furtive passage by bassoon and double basses (ominous?), then, lo and behold, out popped a cheerful little tune to alter the mood completely. The "big theme," a redemptive one announced warmly by the strings (again think Mahler Symphonies 1 and 2), undergoes considerable development by Rott who keeps it going at length for a giddy, bombastic effect. It ends softly, however, over string arpeggios, the way the Symphony begins. Järvi gave it a long-held, reflective conclusion.

Audience response to the (unfamiliar) Symphony was extremely positive. Tonight's 8 p.m. repeat at Music Hall is highly recommended. For tickets (beginning at $10), call (513) 381-3300, or order online at

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bartok and Ravel, Ohio Style

Published: February 16, 2010

Conductors like to think that when they direct an orchestra, it takes on a sound that reflects their own musical personalities, and for better or worse, most get their wishes. Paavo Jarvi has directed the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 2001, and what he appears to have sought above all else is flexibility and efficiency.

You can hear those qualities in the 16 finely polished recordings he has made with the ensemble for Telarc, and they were evident in Mr. Jarvi’s performance with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Monday evening.

The ensemble’s sound was so flexible, in fact, that it almost seemed as if Mr. Jarvi had brought two orchestras: one to produce gentle, pastel coloration in works by Ravel and Bartok, in the first half of the program, and a second to give brawnier, more outgoing accounts of Bach (by way of Webern) and Lutoslawski after the intermission.

If there was a unifying quality, it was an unusual reserve: everything was properly in place, and you could not fault Mr. Jarvi or his players on purely technical grounds. But you wished they would let their hair down now and then and risk sacrificing refinement for the sake of vigor.

Mr. Jarvi opened his program with Ravel’s “Ma Mère L’Oye” Suite, a set of five graceful impressions of Mother Goose stories. You don’t hear this suite often, but in a fluke of scheduling, David Robertson is conducting it with the New York Philharmonic next week.

Ravel’s score is subtle but evocative: you hear bird sounds (as often in the strings as in the woodwinds) and the allure of the forest in “Tom Thumb,” as well as the exoticism (in the pitched percussion) of “The Empress of the Pagodas” and the magic of “The Enchanted Garden” (in the sparkling succession of string, woodwind and percussion timbres), all cast in muted colors.

The nuanced, unified sound that Mr. Jarvi drew from his players suited the Ravel, and you could argue that it supported the more meditative aspects of Bartok’s Concerto No. 3 as well. This work, after all, was composed at the end of Bartok’s life and trades in the electricity and overt virtuosity of its two predecessors for a more temperate, often philosophical approach. The pianist Radu Lupu seemed to be on the same page as Mr. Jarvi here: his performance, though beautifully shaped, was unusually restrained.

The concert came to life in the Ricercare No. 2 from Bach’s “Musical Offering,” heard in the quirky, inviting Webern orchestration, in which single lines morph continuously, starting, for example, in the strings, melting into a wind passage and ending up in the brasses.

The orchestra moved through these transformations with admirable precision and was equally impressive when asked to create similar effects on the larger and more vividly detailed canvas of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra. Yet even in this work’s brassy, outgoing finale, Mr. Jarvi and company seemed to be holding something back, offering politeness when the music craved a ruder edge.

Järvi and the CSO Play the Hall

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Feb 17, 2010

What is the most important instrument in the orchestra?

Though not ordinarily thought of as such, the concert hall is an instrument, and no conductor or orchestra musician would deny its primacy to what they do (boards of directors may be a different story). The conductor and the instrumentalists "play" a hall, both individually and as a body, and how it responds to them is what endows a performance with the final measure of quality (or not).

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed in New York's Carnegie Hall Monday evening (Feb. 15), and under music director Paavo Järvi, they played it the way a great violinist would play a priceless old fiddle. Their program, a repeat of the one previewed in Music Hall in Cincinnati Feb. 12 and 13, comprised Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite," Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3 with pianist Radu Lupu, Ricercare No. 2 from "The Musical Offering" by Bach, orchestrated by Webern, and Witold Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra.

Järvi and the CSO are accustomed to performing in Cincinnati's Music Hall, an over-sized choral festival hall (3,516 seats) that has variable acoustics and requires extra effort by the players for projection and balance.

Their adjustment to Carnegie -- fine-tuned at an open rehearsal Monday morning that drew a large crowd -- was an exercise in luxury, especially for Järvi, whose frustrations with Music Hall are well known and justified.

"In this hall (Carnegie Hall), it doesn't need to be forced. Let it happen," he told the strings in "Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty" from Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite." Contra-bassoonist Jennifer Monroe as the Beast in "Conversations of Beauty and the Beast" understood and made the hall rattle effortlessly.

The chamber music-like manner in which Lupu exchanged night music (bird calls) with the CSO musicians in the second movement of the Bartok Third Piano Concerto was particularly gratifying. So also was the pianissimo statement of the theme by the double basses, harp and piano at the beginning of the Passacaglia from Lutoslawski's Concerto, where, unlike Music Hall, every note could be heard.

New Yorkers came out in large numbers for the concert, which nearly filled Carnegie Hall. Taking into account the attendees at the open rehearsal, it was a sellout and then some. Many Cincinnatians came to New York for the concert despite the snow and the possibility of more bad weather to come (some experienced delays and cancellations trying to fly back to snowbound Cincinnati on Tuesday).

Järvi and the CSO opened with the Ravel in a performance of great subtlety and precision. (It was fun to watch Järvi cue harpist Gillian Benet Sella exactly when to dampen her strings at the end of "Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas" -- and to actually hear it.) "The Enchanted Garden" summed up the childlike wonder of the five nursery tales, ending in a splash of tone color that tingled the ear for a smooth, long held moment.

Interaction between Lupu and the CSO in the Bartok Concerto was easy and close, the result of a careful collaboration. They shared its folk-like moments with gusto and its near-mystical ones with hushed reverence (as in the Adagio religioso). Lupu truly made himself a part of the orchestra for this concerto, the last one that Bartok wrote before his death in New York City in 1945. Applause was long and enthusiastic, with Lupu and Järvi returning repeatedly to the stage (there was no encore).

Webern's pointillistic treatment of Bach's Ricercare profited naturally from the welcoming acoustics of Carnegie Hall, each instrument emerging vividly through the texture and building to a stately, affirmative end. It also provided the perfect prelude to Lutoslawski's rugged, post-war Concerto.

By comparison to his preview concerts in Cincinnati, Jarvi's performance of the Polish masterwork exuded even more electricity and excitement here. He led with super strength and inspiration, drawing virtuosic playing from the CSO.

The performance had everything: drama, feeling, color, transparency and -- the ultimate dividend of a great conductor/orchestra relationship -- trust. Ensemble was remarkable, at times breathtaking, as in the Capriccio where a glissando-like descent in the violins was met seamlessly by a soft, spiccato (bounced) passage in the violas. The contrasting Arioso with its fanfare-like trumpet introduction was both stately and stark.

The concluding Passacaglia, Toccato e Corale was the highpoint of the concert. Following the detailed, kaleidoscopic Passacaglia, the Toccata took off with the visceral intensity of an air raid. The Corale (Chorale) broke in like a ray of brassy sunshine amid the chaos.

The last bars were sheer fireworks, piccolo flickering on top. Järvi sent the final chord out into the hall with whiplash fury.

The audience did not want to let Järvi and the musicians go. They, stood, cheered and demanded repeated bows, one of them a solo bow for Järvi at the insistence of the orchestra.

With Järvi's departure from the Cincinnati Symphony just a little over a year off, Monday's Carnegie Hall concert was an occasion for reflection about what they (and he) are losing. He and the CSO players have forged a close and empathic relationship over the past nine seasons. This was their final concert outside Cincinnati and clearly they wanted to -- and did -- make it one of their best.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra thrills New York's Carnegie Hall

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer
February 16, 2010

NEW YORK -- The last time the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra played Carnegie Hall in 2005, the city was digging out of a record 14-inch blizzard. This time, the orchestra arrived between snowstorms in the Ohio Valley and New York in time for its Monday night concert in the fabled hall. And despite the threatening weather, the New Yorkers came, and they cheered.

Carnegie Hall was nearly full to the top of its upper balcony in the 2,800-seat Stern Auditorium, which is named for the violinist Isaac Stern who saved it from demolition 50 years ago.

For the Cincinnati Symphony’s 47th appearance since 1917, music director Paavo Järvi led the orchestra in the ambitious program it performed in last weekend’s Music Hall concerts – four numbers, spanning from Ravel’s charming “Mother Goose” Suite to a pull-out-the-stops performance of Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra. For the centerpiece, the distinguished Romanian pianist Radu Lupu again joined the orchestra in Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening came at the end, when Järvi gave a bow to principal percussionist William Platt. Platt, who joined in 1971, performed his last concert in Carnegie Hall before he retires at the end of this season.

There is something awe-inspiring about playing on Carnegie Hall’s stage, where the world’s greatest artists and orchestras have played. Part of its aura has to do with its extraordinarily warm sound and fine acoustics.

The orchestra’s sound in the Five Nursery Songs from Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite, which opened the program, glowed in this space. Järvi captured the childlike quality of the miniatures, and no one in the full house seemed to breathe. Orchestral soloists performed expressively, and the pieces had a more relaxed, expansive quality than they had had in Music Hall. The atmosphere and sonority of “The Enchanted Garden” was magical.

There could not have been more of a contrast than Lutoslawski’s concerto, a powerful postwar work, written during the Stalinist years, which concluded the concert. Visually, the scene was impressive, with the full orchestra taking up every inch of the stage, including five percussionists and timpani, keyboards, two harps and the brass arrayed across the back.

Järvi’s view was more fiercely driven than that previously heard. Patrick Schleker’s opening drumbeats in the timpani underscored the momentum and rhythmic drive which never let up, and the violins dug into their strings.

The musicians played with razor-sharp precision, but the performance was equally riveting for its delicate moments, such as the charming folk themes that shimmered at the end of the first movement. The scherzo was light and quick, with virtuosic runs that seemed to ricochet through the orchestra like bolts of lightning.

When the basses began the passacaglia which opens the finale, no one in the hall moved. Järvi built the movement to cataclysmic peaks and back again, galvanizing his players with an undercurrent of tension never far beneath the surface. The result was electrifying. It was enthralling to witness the range of color and timbre that was possible here, from staccato fanfares in the trumpets to the serene chorale, which filled Carnegie Hall with great, organ-like sound. The musicians performed superbly, as the work grew to a brilliant, brass-filled summation.

The audience cheered at the cutoff, and the New Yorkers brought Järvi back for several bows. There was no encore.

In the first half, Lupu joined the orchestra again for Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor. Lupu, a sort of living legend, is an artist of depth and brilliant artistry. As in Cincinnati, he sat at the piano in a chair with a back, and summoned a magnificent range of tone color and beauty of phrasing. The slow movement’s hymn was songful, beautifully voiced and exquisite for its purity and deep feeling. The orchestra collaborated magnificently and supported him with red-blooded sound as he navigated the finale’s formidable octave passages and virtuosities. The audience gave him warm ovations, and he and Järvi walked off the stage, arm in arm.

The evening also included J.S. Bach’s Ricercare from “The Musical Offering,” arranged by Anton Webern, who fragmented the theme through various instruments, like a pointillistic painting. Järvi never allowed it to become clinical, but he communicated warmth.

Seen in the crowd were at least 60 symphony board members and sponsors from US Bank, former WGUC producer/announcer Naomi Lewin, who had been promoting the concert on her show on WQXR in New York, composer Charles Coleman (who is at work on a fanfare for the CSO for next season), New York Pops conductor and Cincinnati Pops associate conductor Steven Reineke and Liang Wang, principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic, formerly with the CSO, and many other fans and musicians with ties to Cincinnati.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

CSO gives colorful preview of Carnegie Hall

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer
February 13, 2010

The program that the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will perform Monday night in New York’s Carnegie Hall seems calculated to showcase the best of what this orchestra can do.

On Friday night in Music Hall, music director Paavo Järvi previewed the concert with an electrifying performance of Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra,” an explosive work which calls for five percussionists, timpani, two harps and an expansive complement of brass. And in keeping with the Eastern European theme, the centerpiece was Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, featuring one of the giants of the piano, Radu Lupu, as soloist.Järvi rounded out the evening with two orchestral gems: Five Nursery Songs from Ravel’s charming “Mother Goose” Suite, and J.S. Bach’s “Fuga Ricercare” from “The Musical Offering,” as orchestrated by Webern.

Lutoslawski’s concerto, which was written during the Stalinist years, is a powerful postwar statement. Like the music of other composers, such as Shostakovich, who suffered under oppressive regimes, this piece has a kind of fierce power all its own.

This is bold music, which calls upon virtuosity from every soloist in the orchestra – and they performed it brilliantly. From the pounding heartbeat opening in the timpani (Patrick Schleker), Järvi propelled the music with an underlying tautness and drive. The first movement died away in a delicate counterpoint of folk themes in winds, harp, violin and celesta.

The second, an exuberant scherzo, flew. Its hallmarks were clarity and precision, but above all, character. Every note was bursting with energy. That energized current flowed through the finale, a driving passacaglia, which climaxed in stunning trumpet fanfares and the entire orchestra in a virtuosic display. The chorale at its center was as amazing for its striking harmonies as for the transparency with which it was executed.

(Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony’s recording of this work for Telarc is one of the finest of his tenure.)

In the first half, Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor was a feat of a different kind. The Romanian artist Lupu, famed for winning both the Van Cliburn and Leeds Piano Competitions in the ‘60s, is a master of tone color and depth. He is perhaps better known for his Beethoven, but his Bartok was breathtaking.

Never have I heard such warmth in this concerto. He sat in a chair with a back, and projected phrases of enormous tonal beauty and artistry, often turning to communicate with the musicians.

Bartok’s Hungarian folk tunes were spirited, but never overly percussive, as may be the case. You couldn’t help but be moved by the deeply personal way he approached the hymn in the slow movement, an evocation of Beethoven, or the lightness of the piano’s “birdcalls” in dialogue with flutist Jasmine Choi.

Even the fugue which opens the finale was freely expressive. Järvi and the orchestra supported him wonderfully, and the orchestral sonority was rich in detail and sweeping color. The two musicians walked off the stage, arm in arm, and the pianist sat in the audience for the program’s second half.

Järvi opened with Ravel’s Five Nursery Songs, which unfolded as charming miniatures. This was music that glowed. He captured the innocent, pure quality of this music with phrasing that was tender and unrushed, from “Beauty and the Beast” (Richie Hawley, clarinet, and Jennifer Monroe, contrabassoon) to a scintillating “Empress of the Pagodas.”

Anton Webern transcribed J.S. Bach’s “Fuga Ricercare” for the orchestra by dividing its themes among instruments, sort of like pointillistic art. Even though the tempo sagged, it was an interesting exercise in orchestral color.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday in Music Hall, and 8 p.m. Monday in Carnegie Hall, New York. Tickets: 513-381-3300,

Carnegie Hall: 212-247-7800,

Friday, February 12, 2010

CSO Carnegie Hall Preview Concert

Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer
February 10th, 2010, 2:55 pm

In this weekend’s concerts in Music Hall, see a preview of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s program that they will perform next week in Carnegie Hall. The orchestra, led by Paavo Jarvi, returns for its 47th appearance since it first performed in “America’s concert hall” in 1917.

Jarvi leads Ravel’s Five Nursery Songs from “Mother Goose,” Bach’s Fuga Ricercare from “The Musical Offering” (orchestrated by Webern) and Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, which he and the CSO have recorded for Telarc.

Grammy-winning pianist Radu Lupu, the extraordinary Romanian artist who won both the Van Cliburn and Leeds Piano competitions, will be here to perform Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Even though the CSO and Pops have appeared at Carnegie Hall many times, regular invitations to appear there are increasingly rare. Their last appearance was in 2005, when they played in the wake of a blizzard that dumped 14 inches in the Big Apple.

This time they appear on Carnegie Hall’s ”Keyboard virtuosos” series.

Here’s what Jarvi had to say:

“It’s more and more difficult for Carnegie Hall to invite anybody that does not have the kind of built-in caché, like the Berlin Philharmonic or Vienna Philharmonic. Boston and Chicago have their own seasons there, but there are very few orchestras that go there regularly.

“It used to be designed as a showcase place for American orchestras. No more. Now they invite you basically on the strength of a program, or on the strength of an idea. And we came up with something they felt was interesting.

“Carnegie Hall, like all institutions, is financially troubled. They need to make sure there is a box office. The box office for the Berlin Philharmonic is going to be a better bet than Cincinnati. So when we go there, we need to bring something very special, and program-wise interesting. Something that makes sense intellectually, as well. Because every night when those critics go to the concert, they have four other options they can go to. And very often, looking from New York perspective, Cincinnati may not be the hottest thing they can attend at the moment.”

Lutoslawski Goes to Carnegie Hall

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Feb 10, 2010 - 1:29:02 AM

How far is it from Cincinnati to Tipp City, Ohio?

Sixty miles (97 km) as the crow flies.

For Music in (somewhere on the east side of town), it took 66 minutes and two hearings of Witold Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra on the 2005 Telarc CD by Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

This powerful work will be heard on CSO concerts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Feb. 12 and 13) at Music Hall and Monday evening (Feb. 15) at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Also on the program are Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite and the Fuga Ricercare from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “A Musical Offering,” arranged by Anton Webern. (Järvi and the CSO's all-Ravel, Telarc CD, which includes the "Mother Goose" Suite, won a Diapason d'Or award in 2004 from the French classical music magazine Diapason.)

Guest artist in Cincinnati and New York will be Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, who will perform Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
Premiered in 1954 in Warsaw, Lutoslawski’s Concerto is paired with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra on the CSO CD. The two works have many things in common. Both are by composers from Eastern Europe who wrote them during times of turmoil. Bartok was a refugee from Hungary, ill and suffering both economic and professional hardship in a foreign country (the U.S.). Lutoslawski lived in Communist-era Poland where freedoms were restricted, including artistic freedom.

Both are large scale, colorful works that show off all the instruments of the orchestra (as opposed to a concerto for one or two instruments). Both were influenced by the folk music of their respective countries.

Though he stretched the boundaries of Communist "socialist realism," Lutoslawski wrote in a folk-influenced, nationalist vein in his Concerto for Orchestra. His harmonies are complex, but basically tonal. (After the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, he would write in a more experimental, "chance" style inspired by Western avant garde composers like John Cage.)

The work opens with pounding timpani and an aggressive theme which is passed through the orchestra. There are three movements, with the third divided into three parts. The second movement is a light-footed scherzo with a contrasting mid-section for brass. The third movement opens with a Passacaglia, a baroque form made up of variations on a continuously repeating theme. This leads into a Toccata which becomes quite virtuosic (“toccata” means “touch piece” and implies display). The final Corale (chorale) draws from Polish folk music.

Bartok’s Third Piano Concerto, written in 1945 as he lay dying, was intended as a birthday gift for his wife Ditta, a pianist. It is written in a gentler and simpler style than his earlier piano concertos. The second movement, marked Adagio religioso, suggests the Adagio of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 132, which Beethoven, having just recovered from a serious illness, inscribed “Thanksgiving to God.”

Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite (Five Nursery Songs from "Mother Goose") was originally a piano duet four hands, written for the children of one of his friends. Ravel orchestrated it and later expanded it into a ballet. It contains some of his most charming and unaffected music, reflective of his childlike nature. The five movements, with characters like Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb and Beauty and the Beast, are drawn from Charles Perrault’s “Tales of Mother Goose” and other sources.
Tickets are $10-$95, $10 for students ($12 the day of the concert) and 25 percent-off for seniors (62 and over). Call (513) 381-3300, or order online at

This weekend’s CSO concerts in Cincinnati include a “Valentine’s Weekend” special, with concert ticket and dinner for $75. The dinners, available both Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Critic’s Club at Music Hall, are an extension of the CSO’s regular Friday night, pre-concert “Moveable Feasts” catered by chef Jean-Robert de Cavel and students from the Midwest Culinary Institute. For reservations, call (513) 381-3300.

There will be a “Classical Conversation” one hour before each concert with Jessica Flores-Garcia, associate curator of contemporary art at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Host is CSO assistant conductor Vince Lee.

Carnegie Hall, New York City
For ticket information for the CSO’s February 15 concert at Carnegie Hall, call the Carnegie Hall box office at (212) 247-7800 or visit

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

CD Pick of the Week: Paavo Järvi with Beethoven's Second and Sixth

by Jens F. Laurson
Classical WETA 90.9 Blog

For the full article, check out the WETA website:

Paavo Järvi’s Beethoven continues at just about the level that it began with when the Eroica and Eigth Symphony were released. (WETA CD Pick of the Week in December) In this case it is the Sixth, “Pastorale” and Second Symphony. Comparison between Järvi, Vanska (BIS), and Abbado (Rome 2001, DG) suggests that the Pastorale-interpretations seem to converge on very fast, brisk’n’crisp versions, no matter the orchestra (Bremen Chamber Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, a reduced-size Berlin Philharmonic, respectively) or the style and age of conductor...

...Perhaps it surprises that the newer recordings of Speedmaster Järvi and Excitemeister Vänskä are slower than Abbado’s. Vänskä is brisk at 42 minutes (all three conductors take all repeats), but Abbado shaves nearly three minutes even off that time. Vänskä’s Sixth is a solidly-superb part of his cycle, but not the highlight. Abbado’s Sixth is ravishing, but in some ways Järvi manages to one-up him, still—his attacks are so explosive, his dynamic changes so sudden, his orchestra so detailed that he doesn’t need to outrun Abbado to appear quicker. Whether that makes for a better Sixth or not is a matter of preference.

Incidentally Järvi’s firecracker Second Symphony that shares the Sixths disc-space is even more obviously special… an interpretation that jolts me out of my indifference toward that symphony and makes an immediately convincing case about how radical the Second must have looked at the time. Järvi’s Beethoven-cycle has quickly become a favorite of mine; perched at the top together with Vänskä (BIS)...but more than just being a bracingly excellent complete cycle, Järvi is particularly strong on the front-three, which have are now all my favorite version.