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Hands Across the Sea: A French-American Program at the CSO

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Dec 8, 2001 - 2:46:10 PM in archives

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Dec. 8, 2001)

Can an Estonian named Paavo do the turkey trot?

He certainly can, as Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi happily demonstrated Friday morning at Music Hall.

He can do the waltz, too - in 7/8 time - as well as the mazurka and the samba. All are movements of Leonard Bernstein's Divertimento, which Järvi gave its first CSO performance Friday. A student of Bernstein at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, Järvi obviously grooves to his music, a significant asset for a conductor inevitably identified with the Nordic repertoire.

And that wasn't all. The elegantly crafted program also included outstanding performances of Debussy's ''Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun'' and Albert Roussel's 1929 Symphony No. 3. Carrying out the French-American theme were Copland's Clarinet Concerto and Debussy's ''Premiere Rapsodie'' for Clarinet and Orchestra, impeccably played by principal clarinetist Richard Hawley.

Järvi, who does not conduct the CSO again until March, called the audience to attention with the first crack of the Bernstein, a catchy, vividly orchestrated packet of ebullience with tongue-in-cheek references to Mahler, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, 12-tone music, the blues and, in ''BSO Forever'' (for ''Boston Symphony Orchestra,'' for which it was written), Sousa, with brass and piccolos standing.

Composed for Benny Goodman, Copland's Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano is a gentle effusion that morphs through an energetic cadenza to a jazzy conclusion.

Hawley made it a trip. His soft-brushed tone skimmed the still waters of the first movement. He negotiated the cadenza to a frisky high note, then topped off the complex, rhythmic finale with a terrific glissando. Hawley evoked another world in Debussy's ''Rapsodie,'' its color-washed reverie giving way to a lively conclusion.

Järvi led both works with finesse, kindling a like spirit in the CSO.

Järvi's French is excellent, as symphony-goers learned on his inaugural concert in September with Debussy's ''La Mer.'' He showed similar fluency with Debussy's ''Afternoon of a Faun.'' Principal flutist Randolph Bowman led off with a languid solo, color slicks in the strings working up to a full blush, with fine work by horns and percussion.

Roussel, the master who seems to fall between the cracks, got lavish treatment by Järvi and the CSO. Järvi mined all its color and vigor, giving it generous brass and percussion and turning up the heat under the strings.

The hammered rhythms of the opening Allegro were laden with energy.

The bubbly fugue in the Adagio swelled into an arc of color, while the three-minute waltz (Scherzo) had a raucous edge. Järvi had wicked fun with the bumpy, repetitive ending, topping it off with a flourish.

Repeat is 8 tonight at Music Hall.