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Concert Review/ Radu Lupu & Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra & Paavo Järvi

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Ravel: Ma Mère l’Oye Suite (1908-1910; orch 1910)
Bartók: Piano Concerto No.3 (1945)
Bach-Webern: Ricercare No.2 from The Musical Offering (1747; orch. Webern. 1934-1935)
Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra (1950-1954)

   Appearing as part of their annual guest appearance at the Carnegie Hall, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is one of America’s proudest orchestras currently on the international map. Led by Estonian-conductor Paavo Järvi, who recently announced his departure as music director of the CSO beginning in June 2011, is a well-liked persona by his musicians, generous in nurturing young-and-rising artists, and with the use of the baton, generates a sort of magnetism that sways audience from any distractions except music on the podium. On this evening celebrating Amercia’s President’s Day, Järvi and the CSO brings with them from Cincinnati a gift disguised in a multi-varied music programme: Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye Suite, Bach’s Ricercare No.2 from The Musical Offering arranged by Webern and Lutoslawski’s post-World War II magnum opus, Concerto for Orchestra. This would generally had been sufficient to please the subscriber audience. However, to make concert into an extra special evening, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.3 was featured, with a soloist that performs with sublime beauty – Radu Lupu.

   Based on five fairy tales, Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye Suite demonstrates the composer’s exceptional talent writing music for the children. This claim can be further supported by the success of another musical fantasy written by the composer a decade later in L'enfant et les sortilèges.  The CSO opened with immediate impact and brilliance in the first Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty, with the sweet timbre of the woodwinds that resembled a child-like innocence. In the subsequent two tales, Tom Thumb and Laideronnette-Empress of the Pagodas, Järvi demonstrated himself as a conductor who is versatile with the language and vast expanse of Impressionism. Visually, it was a real pleasure to see his conducting - how his baton communicated with his musicians to achieve clarity of expression in order to develop the delicate, pointillist touch of Oriental colors. In the Conversations of Beauty and Beast, “Beauty” is represented by the clarinet, while the “Beast” is represented by the contrabassoon, and together, they conversed and blended together with ethnic colors. Then finally, in The Enchanted Garden, Järvi  once more brought aestheticism onto the forefront, with the beautiful  and adagio melody brought to full display by the CSO. Throughout this overall performance, the percussion emerged like beams of light that refracted into a million of lustrous colors. 

   Bartók s Piano Concerto No.3 is a “new addition” to many Lupu fans. Nonetheless, the interpretation that stemmed from the Romanian pianist was one of masterly insights, coupled by an overall rhythmic integrity and demonstration in self-assurance.  Written during the summer of 1945, at a time when Bartók himself was succumbed to serious illness, the Piano Concerto No.3 was eventually performed by fellow countryman György Sándor and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy in 1946. Mr. Lupu gave a beautiful opening melody that started off the Allegretto movement, his fingers danced along with the elements of folk themes that mingled with tastes in the classical tradition. Järvi, on the other hand, was instrumental in accommodating Mr. Lupu with the needed platform to bring about the music to its whimsical ending. The Adagio religioso movement was essentially a hymn of praise coming from Mr. Lupu – and how serene and vocational was the playing. Coupled by the ambiance of the Carnegie Hall, it created the necessary atmosphere to sustain the simple chords echoed on the piano. The solo dialogue between the CSO winds and xylophone, appearing later in this movement, reminded audience to the references that Bartók based his writings on Beethoven`s String Quartet in A Minor Op.132. The Finale was an outpour of rich rhythmic and melodic ideas, fostered by a busy dialogue between Mr. Lupu and the CSO musicians. Together, the two forces brought this final movement to a delightful close.

   Following intermission, Bach`s Ricercare No.2 from the Musical Offerings provided a musical painting in Baroque style disguised under a highly original arrangement by Anton Webern in 20th century writing. Immediately recognizable, the strings of the CSO soared with a tonal sonority that was complemented harmoniously by the CSO wind players. Together, they joined in unison to transform this work into a canvass of orchestral beauty. But, arguably, the highlight to this evening`s concert was saved till the very end with Lutoslawski`s highly-demanding Concerto for Orchestra. What is foremost required in this piece, aside from the need of an extended orchestra, is discipline and unity amongst the players in order to deliver the dense counterpoint and rhythmic subtlety to their fullest effects. This proved not to be a challenge at all for Järvi and his CSO musicians, for as sophisticated a work of art as this piece may be, the musicians made one bold statements after the next to testify to all present that this was to be their tour de force piece.

 Even without any prior knowledge to the underlying historical context behind this piece, the performance delivered by the CSO would have filled any “intellectual void” needed for an association with the post-World War II years.  Having previously recorded this piece with the CSO, Järvi was a champion in his handling of the Intrada first movement, defined by a bed of string playing of raw energy and charged timpani playing. The Capriccio and Arioso in the second movement is in fact a Scherzo and Trio in disguised, and this was rendered by the CSO with remarkable clarity and vivid coloring. But the high-point came with the Passacaglia, Toccata and Chorale that defines the third movement. Here, the astonishing command of orchestral color, at times even to create a focused blur of sound, signified an Orchestra of utmost skill and mastery. As the music moves from the Toccata to the Chorale, so did most audience, finding themselves sitting closer and closer to the edge of their seats.

 The build-up to the final climax was absolutely powerful and traumatic, analogous to a volcanic eruption that laid quiet in anticipation. It is therefore no surprise that the house was in heated-excitement when the music reached its triumphant close. This concert given by Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra witnessed a promise at birth that transcended into a triumph at close. It can`t be more wonderful.

By Patrick P.L. Lam

Image by Mark Lyons

Homepage: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Homepage: Paavo Järvi


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