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Barcelona Comes Up Roses

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Apr 1, 2004 - 11:54:15 AM in reviews_2004

(first published in The Cincinnati Post April, 2004).

BARCELONA, Spain -- Everything came up roses for Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Wednesday night in Barcelona, the last stop on their first tour of Europe together.

The roses -- porcelain ones -- adorned the ceiling of the ornate Palau de la Musica Catalana, site of their 11th and final concert on the tour.  The hall itself, truly a "palace of music" with its huge stained glass chandelier and busts of Beethoven and Catalan composer Anselm Clave staring down from the proscenium arch, made a festive and welcoming venue for the CSO's farewell concert.

Carl Nielsen's bubbly "Maskarade" Overture, a brief curtain raiser that should become, along with Sibelius' "Valse Triste," a regular CSO encore, opened the program.

French pianist Helene Grimaud performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, Wagner's Valkyries soaring in sculpture overhead. As elsewhere on the tour, there was magical rapport between Grimaud and Järvi, resulting in exceptional unity of ensemble and expression.

The Barcelona crowd wanted more from her and they got it in Rachmaninoff's Etudes Tableaux Op. 33, No. 2.

The concert's orchestral showpiece was Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, a work, if not owned by Järvi, he at least owns a large bloc of shares. Working from memory, he led with authority and thoroughness, laying out its mosaic-like structure with clarity while imparting vivid character and emotion.

Examples include the pounding hooves, "head 'em off at the pass" sequence that ends the first movement (following principal trumpeter Philip Collins' Indiana Jones-style solo) and the sudden, rapturous wave of strings in the second, echoed by clashing harmonies in the woodwinds.

And certainly there are no more moving moments in the annals of arch-romantics Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff than the great emotive climax of the Sibelius Five finale.

As everywhere on the CSO tour, audience response was extravagant, some listeners refusing to stop clapping even after two encores (Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 6 and "Valse Triste").

Järvi acknowledged his players warmly, having each section stand individually and blowing the entire orchestra a collective kiss. He gave the traditional flower bouquet to violist Judith Martin who was celebrating her birthday.

At a buffet after the concert, Järvi congratulated the CSO on their achievement and on the overwhelming success of the tour.

"It must be either very courageous or very stupid to start with the Mahler Fifth in Vienna, but we did it with great success. What we have done in three years is remarkable. I am incredibly humbled and proud to be a part of this organization, which means more to me than any other, musically speaking. Tonight you played with great subtlety and professionalism."

He also spoke of the need to keep the momentum going through touring and recordings. "Success cannot be measured only by the local reception of the audience or press. What is needed is a long-term building process, doing everything that needs to be done to get better."

There was a delegation from the Cincinnati Symphony Association and friends of the orchestra at the concert, including Bill and Evelyn Kick, Nancy Wagner, Patty Wagner, and Barb Matson (CSA), Roseanne Wetzel (May Festival) and Dava Biehl (volunteer and Music Hall guide).