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Mozart Sings, Brahms Zings

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 26, 2004 - 11:32:46 PM in reviews_2004

first published in The Cincinnati Post Sept. 25, 2004)

Who put the zing in the Brahms Friday morning at Music Hall?

Brahms and Arnold Schoenberg to begin with.

Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony took it from there.

In a stunning display of what he and the CSO can do together, Järvi and his players thrilled the smallish crowd with Schoenberg's orchestration of Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor.

In doing so, they sent a message ringing out into the new season: The CSO is one of the orchestras most worth hearing today - anywhere. Whatever position it may occupy in the symphonic world, it is poised to go higher (they will have a chance in November, when the CSO embarks on its first tour of Europe with Järvi).

It was not just the Brahms/Schoenberg either. It was also Mozart, where they were joined by pianist Emanuel Ax in Mozart's Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major. And Luciano Berio and Luigi Boccherini, "collaborators" two centuries apart on "Quattro Versioni Originale della 'La Ritirata notturna di Madrid'" ("Four Original Versions of the 'Ritirata di Madrid'" by Boccherini, as arranged by Berio).

Ax and Järvi were of one mind in Mozart's late, great work. Jarvi set it up at the outset with an elegant, perfectly shaped exposition, taken up by Ax to create an almost seamless effect. There was an intimate feeling about the opening movements, Ax bending over the keys in a confidential manner, while the finale rippled with childlike delight. Ax insisted on sharing his first bow with the CSO winds, who played with extraordinary skill and artistry. Called back for two more bows, Ax obliged with an encore, Chopin's Waltz in A Minor.

In orchestrating Brahms' early chamber work, Schoenberg poured new wine into an old bottle. Though it may spill over a bit, it's flavorful and rewarding in the extreme. Järvi held it up to his own light and let every colorful detail shine through. The CSO supported him with playing of the highest order.

The first movement (Allegro) began with soft clarinets, then flowed through dark, winy strings to big dramatic statements by the full orchestra. The Intermezzo featured outstanding work by the solo winds -- acting principal French hornist Tom Sherwood played with blazing intensity -- and a brisk, edgy flow. Jarvi tapped Brahms' big, noble melody in the third movement and put heaps of swagger into the march-like mid-section.

The gypsy rondo finale is not called "Rondo alla Zingarese" for nothing and Järvi and the CSO made it one big exclamation point. The violins tossed off rapid, skittering passages with ease, the lower strings pulsed with romance and principal clarinetist Richard Hawley joined with the principal strings in a truly creative "cadenza." Järvi pushed it like a demon -- it is marked Presto, after all - earning a lengthy ovation at the end. When the CSO refused to stand, he mounted the podium for a solo bow.

The Berio/Boccherini opener -- last heard when Spanish-born music director emeritus Jesus Lopez-Cobos introduced it in 1998 -- conjured Madrid at night as a military "retreat" approaches, then recedes into the distance. A theme and variations, it emerged softly in solo horn and snare drum (the snare was a constant throughout as in Ravel's "Bolero"). It built to a full trumpet-and-drum din as the cordon swept by, then back down again to soft flute and a wisp of snare.

Repeat is 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall.