Enter your email address and click subscribe to receive new articles in your email inbox:

Stirring the Emotions at the CSO

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 28, 2003 - 6:18:48 PM in reviews_2003

(first published in the Cincinnati Post Sept. 27, 2003)

The power of music is its ability to operate directly on the nervous system.

It can cause shivers, sighs, elation and even more "dangerous" emotions, police have alleged.

A case in point was Friday morning’s Cincinnati Symphony concert at Music Hall.

The program was straightforward: Brahms Symphony No. 1, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Johann Strauss’ Jr.’s "Emperor Waltzes." The results were not.

As he has demonstrated repeatedly since becoming CSO music director, Paavo Järvi has the gift of bringing out the best in his players and transfixing audiences in the process.

This happened in the Brahms in a performance so exalted and deeply felt it can only have had an ennobling effect on the collective neurons present. This is not to say it was perfect – the best music rarely is (there were a few splutters in the brass). Gesture and emotion, though, were there in spades. For sheer goose bumps, few moments are likely to surpass, in this season or any other, hornist Tom Sherwood’s blazing solo in the introduction to the finale (echoed by flutist Randall Bowman and a soaring brass chorale).

Another was Bach’s Air on the G String (from the Suite for Orchestra in D Major), an addition to the program in memory of CSO cellist Geraldine Sutyak, who died Sunday. Järvi took it very slowly and softly, as if from far away, and infused it with tenderness. It was a perfect moment, unbroken by applause.

Järvi’s Brahms might be described as classical with an edge. He brought out the painful dissonances in the opening bars, given dramatic heft by timpanist Eugene Espino’s pounding low C’s (on a 36-inch drum) and he dove-tailed melodic fragments in the development section for a long-breathed effect. Deployment of winds in the Andante was exquisite, clarinet Richard Hawley stealing in gently above oboist Richard Johnson in a deft and graceful handoff. Concertmaster Timothy Lees capped the movement with a yearningly sweet solo on the violin.

The finale of Brahms’ First is tricky to conduct, but Järvi made it look easy, from the slowly accelerating string pizzicato in the introduction to the famously off-beat passage near the end. The big C-Major theme, one of the glories of the work, was warm and enveloping.

Järvi had a strong ally in stirring the synapses in pianist Yundi Li, who made his CSO debut at the concert. Winner of the 2000 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Li romanced his listeners in the Chopin concerto, causing a run on his CDs (for sale at intermission) and a long line of autograph seekers after the concert.

Just 20 and a native of Chongqing, China, Li is an engaging performer. His long fingers flew over the keys in the outer movements, and he spun a dreamy, ever-expanding web in the Romanze. He showed another personality in his encore – the dazzling virtuoso – in Liszt’s "La Campanella." Li will perform Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the CSO on its November tour of Japan.

Strauss’ "Emperor Waltzes" opened the concert. Järvi achieved a gorgeous transparency here – woodwinds shone like facets and cellist Eric Kim’s solo was shapely and touching. Still, it was a gemstone with flaws, as the CSO did not seem to get some of Järvi’s timing and emphases. Their next dance together – at tonight’s 8 p.m. repeat at Music Hall – should be better.