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Sibelius for Japan

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Nov 1, 2003 - 12:16:43 PM in reviews_2003

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Oct. 31, 2003)

Paavo Järvi’s Sibelius with the Cincinnati Symphony on the eve of their November tour of Japan illustrates a growing bond with the musicians. He can take risks now, with electric results.

Clapping at symphony concerts usually happens at the end of a piece. Or as is common (but technically improper) between movements. Thursday evening at Music Hall it happened during the music.

This apparently startled Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi, who cast a glance behind him. But who could blame them? Järvi had just brought them to their feet with an over-the-top performance of Sibelius' Second Symphony. He leapt into the encore, Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5, with such gypsyfied fervor they could hardly resist clapping along.

It was a scene right out of Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops. And it showed that Järvi is beginning to connect powerfully with the CSO audience.

The concert, which previewed repertoire the orchestra will perform on its Nov. 6-15 tour of Japan, also included New York composer Charles Coleman's "Streetscape" and Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, K.482 with guest artist Garrick Ohlsson.

There should have been an ovation for the Mozart, too, for rarely has this reviewer heard the composer played so well. Järvi shaped the first movement exposition with exquisite care, setting the tone for Ohlsson, a giant of the keyboard (literally), who conveyed a sense of power to spare. It was all there under his fingers, solid, yet elegant and precise, from the bright opening Allegro and poignant Andante to the merry rondo finale. Järvi seemed to revel in it; communication between the artists was complete.

Coleman's "Streetscape," premiered by Järvi and the CSO just three days after 9-11, continues to impress. Lavishly scored with a raft of percussion, the 20-minute tone painting embodies the pulse of the city. An anvil blow sets off an exhilarating, staccato sprint marked by jazzy syncopation. The slow movement, which featured nostalgic solos by principal cellist Eric Kim and concertmaster Timothy Lees, grows impassioned, then fades.

Announced by the soft scratching of sandpaper blocks, the third movement has a breezy, Latino air, with slow string melodies wafting over a buzz of percussion. Motorbikes, i.e. trombone slides, can be heard in the final movement where the pulse grows more insistent (cowbell, tom-toms, anvil) and the street explode with bellowing horns and trumpets.

Järvi's Sibelius was not just thrilling. It was revelatory. Clearly, he can now take risks with his players for it had an "edgy," spontaneous feel. Their interaction was electric as Järvi varied tempos or honed in for a particular expressive effect. (The string pizzicato in the first movement, for instance, was like soft rain the first time, slower and then accelerating on repeat.)

The Andante was like great oratory, filled with extremes of emotion. The Vivacissimo maintained intensity even in its quiet interludes. Järvi led like a demon in the finale, animated and inspiring. Moments of tension and release were like water bursting from a dam. He built to a brush fire of excitement in the coda, which was topped off by a blazing brass chorale and timpanist Eugene Espino's heroic drum rolls.

Saturday night’s repeat will be followed by a bon voyage party in the Music Hall lobby.