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Bruckner in Flesh and Spirit

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 30, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

   "A lot of people don't like Bruckner," said music director Paavo Järvi on the taped video shown before Friday's Cincinnati Symphony concert at Music Hall.
That, plus an unfamiliar name on the program and an artist change, may have contributed to the unusually small turnout, but those who were there constituted a rapt audience.
   In fact, the silence during the Adagio of Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 and the collective exhalation that followed the softly brushed chords at the end were eloquent testimony that Järvi had kept his listeners spellbound. It was an extraordinary moment during an extraordinary performance and one to make any Bruckner fan's heart grow fonder.
   The unknown quantity on the program was Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (though Järvi has led his Symphony No. 5 and Double Bass Concerto for CSO audiences previously). It was the CSO premiere of Tubin's unfinished Symphony No. 11, a nine-minute Allegro vivace that lives up fully to its "con spirito" designation.
   Stepping in on just three days' notice for Norwegian cellist Truls Mork, who canceled because of an illness in his family, was cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who picked up the traces with the previously announced Cello Concerto in A Minor by Robert Schumann.
   Just 24, Weilerstein is a superbly talented young artist, and her performance demonstrated that. She plays with a rapid vibrato and demonstrative gestures, making for an intense listening experience. Her Schumann was impetuous, even fevered, though she could produce a lovely, warm sound when she wanted to, as in her duets with CSO principal cellist Eric Kim in the slow portion of the one-movement work.
   At other times, one could have wished for more subtlety, and her down-bow attacks were sometimes heavy-handed. Nevertheless, she is an important new talent, with much to offer, and should be invited back soon on her own terms.
   Järvi's approach to the two symphonies was engrossing and, in the case of the Bruckner, revelatory. The Tubin took off on a flourish of timpani, setting an exuberant tone before falling back into a mood of suspense. A "Mars"-like buildup (Gustav Holst's "Planets") preceded the soaring, brassy recapitulation, but the work ended on a note of questioning with harmonies that remained unresolved.
   In the Bruckner, Järvi handled the shifting duple/triple (sometimes super-imposed) rhythms by varying and sub-dividing his beat, and he treated the work's block-like construction as given, with acutely sensitive characterization.
   For this listener, no one is likely to equal his reading of the Adagio movement soon. It was an emotional journey that painted the composer as more than the plaster saint he is often supposed. There was solemnity, tenderness and almost funereal depth. And yet there was also light - of the resigned sort, perhaps, but those chords at the end were like shards of hope.
   The sun came out in the Scherzo, which was gleefully martial and childlike, with its tramping basses, brass fanfares and playful pizzicato.
   The finale had plenty of nervous energy - tremolo strings punctuated by blasts of brass at the beginning - and even more discontinuity. Järvi shaped it all discretely, from the moments of pensive, fitful winds to the brass-heavy, heaven-storming declarations that topped it off.
   It was a connoisseur's concert maybe, but demonstrated the mastery Järvi has brought to the CSO and the extent to which the orchestra has responded to it.
   The program repeats at 8 tonight at Music Hall.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post Sept. 30, 2006)