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Järvi Takes CSO to the Edge

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: May 8, 2004 - 11:45:54 PM in reviews_2004

(first published in The Cincinnati Post May 7, 2004)

If you thought Beethoven’s Ninth was about joy, you should have heard Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony perform his Symphony No. 7 Thursday night at Music Hall.

But it was more than just joyous. It was buoyant and boisterous, even balletic. Anything but business as usual.

To close the CSO season – repeats are 11 a.m. today, 8 p.m. Saturday – Järvi took his players to the edge.

The entire concert was like that, with guest artist Yefim Bronfman knocking the stuffing out of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and a scintillating read of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s Symphonic Variations (1938).

Prokofiev’s Second Concerto is not for mere mortals, nor did Bronfman betray any such vulnerability – beyond taking a long moment between the first and second movements to mop his brow with a handkerchief. He played with incredible virtuosity, generating torrents of notes and maintaining a forceful presence throughout. The work’s barbaric nature was fully underscored by Järvi and the CSO, with occasional rude blasts by the trombone and horn.

In response to a standing ovation (and Järvi, who prodded him toward the piano) Bronfman encored with more Prokofiev, the pounding, motorific finale of his Piano Sonata No. 7.

Järvi’s Beethoven fulfilled Wagner’s famous description of the work, "apotheosis of the dance." Indeed, it was like one big dance set, each movement proceeding to the next without skipping a beat. The opening Vivace was all high spirits, its bouncy dotted rhythms laced by soaring horns at the end. The famous Allegretto was light, delicate and up to speed, a "white ballet" of sorts with Järvi spinning some long, graceful lines.

The Presto was swift, including the Trio sections (sometimes lengthened ponderously). Repeats were like little precipices, the CSO landing on all fours, then coursing nimbly along. The finale was a tour de force for everyone, not least Järvi, who led like a demon, stirring up a riot of controlled commotion that spun to an exhilarating conclusion.

Lutoslawski’s nine-minute work was like a mini-concerto for orchestra, combining a lovely theme and some broad cinematic passages with lively rhythms and sonorities a la Stravinsky. A CSO premiere, it whet the appetite for the composer’s actual Concerto for Orchestra, to be performed and recorded next season.