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Durufle Steals the Show

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 26, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

   Let’s hear it for organists.
   Two of the composers featured on Friday morning’s Cincinnati Symphony concert were organists (both French), Cesar Franck and Maurice Durufle.
   Franck’s Symphony in D Minor is a staple of the orchestral lit-
erature. Durufle’s Three Dances for Orchestra, Op. 6, is not, but judging from what I heard by music director Paavo Järvi and the CSO (it was a CSO premiere) it should be.
   Composed in 1932 and obviously influenced by Ravel (and Durufle’s teacher, Paul Dukas), it’s a color-saturated beauty that also looks back to the French baroque. It helped light up a dreary morning (attendance was sparse, due in part, no doubt, to the cold
and rain). Not that it’s been buried. Durufle’s complete opus comprises only 14 works, including his well-known Requiem. Outside of France, however, the Three Dances appear to have been overlooked (there is an out of print Er-
ato recording by Durufle himself).
   Scored for a big, Ravelian orchestra (five percussionists!), its three movements are patterned on the French dance suite, with an opening Divertissement that has everything: atmosphere, melody, including a soulful one originally sounded by the clarinet, and dramatic shaping, with a
bells-in-the-air (horns) climax.
   The Danse lente sparkled with jewel-like textures and shifting moods. The opening (and closing) melody for clarinet and bass clarinet had an evocative, chant-like aura.
   The final Tambourin was a complete delight. Written over persistent drumming (tambourin is the name of two-headed French drum), it included a spectacular “drumming” episode for spiccato strings. There was also the delicious sound of saxophone (James Bunte) meandering above and engaging in a chortling exchange with the bassoon and contra-bassoon.
   One of the composer’s few non-organ or choral works, Durufle’s Three Dances (recorded in a two-piano version only at the moment) would be a prime selection for a CSO Telarc recording.
   Friday’s featured soloist was CSO principal bassoonist William Winstead, who added a glow of his own with Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto. Winstead was more than the superb bassoonist we hear week after week. He was a real presence, right down to the red, white and gold vest that complemented his bassoon, maple with a mahogany stain, and his own curly red hair.
   Composed when Mozart was 18, the Bassoon Concerto is sunny and totally disarming. Winstead projected a mellow, pointed tone that engaged the listener immediately, from the acrobatics
of the Allegro and the cadenzas (Winstead’s own), to the lovely aria-like Andante and bubbly Menuetto. Järvi’s accompaniment was precise, nuanced and exquisitely dovetailed with Winstead, never more so than in the gentle segue from his second movement cadenza.
   The Franck Symphony in D Minor has never been absent from the concert hall (the CSO has recorded it with former music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos). Franck’s familiarity with the organ is evident in its huge sonorities and range of color, and Järvi and the CSO traversed it magnificently.
   He began with a powerfully shaped introduction to the first movement. He took it from the glacially slow, eerie “fate” motif in the lower strings (compare
Wagner’s “Ring” cycle) through a shattering crescendo to the theme’s transformation by the full orchestra, punctuated by angry shouts of brass. Then he got to do it all over again in a new key (something Franck has been criticized for, but it adds to the works' potent shiver effect).
   Järvi threw the movement into high relief by counter posing moments of gen-
tle beauty, and the last statement of the opening motif built to a grand conclusion.
   English hornist Christopher Philpotts’ set the tone for the slow movement with his dark, eloquent solo, handing it off to principal hornist Elizabeth Freimuth, who soared throughout. There were some wonderful moments of mystery, as in the soft, rustling strings that crept in on cat’s paws, and the music opened out like a flower at the end.
   There was lots of drama in the finale, too. The bright churning opening contrasted with more plaintive moments, and the variegated return of themes from the earlier movements. Järvi built to a full-bore, timpani-rat-
tling recapitulation, then crafted a bated-breath conclusion. The harp bubbled up suspensefully against the gathering orchestral forces, which sealed the work with a great a great big D-major chord.
Repeat is 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post Sept. 23, 2006)