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CSO Creates an ! with Haydn 104th

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 22, 2001 - 12:44:22 PM in archives

(first published in The Cincinnati Post, Sept. 22, 2001)

If Paavo Järvi's debut as Cincinnati Symphony music director was cathartic (just three days after the World Trade Center disaster), his second concert Friday morning at Music Hall was a healing balm.

The difference was the music. Instead of Barber's Adagio for Strings, New Yorker Charles Coleman's oddly prescient "Streetscape" and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, Järvi led works by Sibelius, Schumann and Haydn.

No small thanks are due to guest artist Helene Grimaud, whose heartwarming performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor brought the audience to its feet. A controlled powerhouse, she played without a hint of bombast, bringing out all the lyricism and playfulness of the work. Järvi mirrored her performance with unerring rhythm and unity of feeling.

Estonian-born Järvi brought a welcome affinity to Sibelius' Sixth Symphony, a CSO premiere. A symphony in name and intellectual underpinning, it's something of a puzzler. Short, just 30 minutes long, with similar tempos throughout, it has a shifting, enigmatic air. The tranquil, pastoral mood of the opening movement is undermined by bass clarinet rumbles, and the effusion of brass near the end terminates in a soft murmur.

There's a desolate feel to the second movement, with its long, inconclusive lines and sighing motifs, while the third is a charmer, with bouncing rhythms and a full-throated, upbeat ending.

The finale is successively poignant and joyful, and there's lots of Finnish, folk- influenced color. Järvi let it soar when called for, but once again, there's that soft, amivalent ending.

Järvi cultivated a glossy sheen in the strings throughout. String ensemble was not always the best, but Sibelius doesn't make it easy with lines often distributed between the sections (remedy: play more chamber music). He gave keen definition to the work's shifting moods and achieved some remarkable blends of color, particularly in the latter movements.

The concert ended with Haydn's Symphony No. 104, the "London," an occasion for good feeling if ever there was one. Järvi's professed bent for Haydn showed here in the superlative response of the CSO. Attacks were precise, lines were shaped just so, and it built to a zesty, jump-for-joy conclusion.

Repeat, at 8 tonight at Music Hall, is the last chance to hear Järvi until November. Don't miss it.