CINCINNATI ORCHESTRA POWERFUL
IN SLAVIC MUSIC
By Lawrence Budmen
While Arvo Part (1935- ) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) were composers of vastly different eras and styles, both encapsulated their nations' traumatic upheavals and their personal artistic travails in powerful, deeply moving musical scores that transcend the events of their creation to speak in a universal language of artistic humanism. The music of these two creative giants formed the bookends of an outstanding concert by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and its dynamic music director Paavo Jarvi on March 28, 2004 at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach - a presentation of the Concert Association of Florida.
Arvo Part is a mystic and an Estonian nationalist. Now a resident of Berlin, Part responded to Soviet occupation of his country by writing a series of highly personal works that combine minimalism with spirituality. When the great British composer Benjamin Britten died in 1976, Part had just discovered his music and was very impressed by the purity of his scores. Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" (1977) is a moving portrait of grief and artistic reverence. Amid tolling church bells, richly textured strings repeat a broad melodic figure. An emotional climax fades to a single chime. The emotional resonance of this work (in Part's signature style) is highly poignant. This is music that holds the listener transfixed! The Estonian born Paavo Jarvi, a long time friend of the composer, led a soaring performance of this beautiful score. The transparency of the Cincinnati string sound was breathtaking. A glorious, heartfelt performance of an emotionally riveting work!
Prokofiev penned his "Symphony No.5 in B-flat Major," Opus 100 in 1944 during the dark hours of World War 2. (The work's premiere - on January 13, 1945 in Moscow - coincided with the announcement of the Red Army's victory and entry into Germany.) The chaos of the time found full expression in Prokofiev's creative imagination. The music's lyricism, irony, sarcasm, and bittersweet triumph find the composer writing at white heat. Prokofiev's mastery of orchestration is everywhere evident. The score is both emotionally searing and deeply eloquent. Prokofiev's brilliant orchestral writing provides a formidable test of an orchestra's virtuosity. The Cincinnati Symphony is one of America's best ensembles. The lush, glistening strings, bright, sweet toned winds, glowing brass, and super charged percussion of this orchestra seemed born to play this Prokofiev masterpiece.
Paavo Jarvi is a brilliant interpreter of Prokofiev's music. (His Cincinnati recording of the composer's "Romeo and Juliet" ballet music ranks with versions by Riccardo Muti, Daniele Gatti, and Mark Ermler among the best cds of this lush score.) He evoked the pensive spirit and wrenching climaxes of the opening Andante in a masterful manner. His ability to communicate long limbed musical paragraphs (rather than thematic episodes) with power and eloquence was impressive. The bitter irony of the Allegro marcato evolved at a fierce tempo. The expressive phrasing of the trio (with lovely wind playing) provided dynamic contrast. Jarvi paced the beautiful Adagio broadly. The gorgeous tonal colors of this music have rarely glistened so brightly! The warm lyricism of the music unfurled anew in waves of lush orchestral sound. The Allegro giocoso finale was all rhythmic energy with sinewy winds and brass producing playing of enormous force and impact. Jarvi's phrasing of the triumphant second theme was beautiful and striking in its elongated breadth and eloquence. The orchestra's virtuosic playing and Jarvi's brilliant conducting made this Prokofiev 5th Symphony a performance to remember. Bravo Paavo!
Beethoven's wonderful "Concerto in C Major for Violin, Cello, Piano, and Orchestra," Opus 56 ("Triple Concerto") formed the concert's centerpiece. This work represents not Beethoven the titan, but Beethoven as composer of warmly songful instrumental music. The Eroica Trio played the score with just the right combination of lyrical beauty and virtuosic brilliance. This gifted threesome combines chic glamour with splendid musicianship. Violinist Adela Pena played with a penetrating tone and trenchant musicality. Cellist Sara Sant' Ambrogio displayed a rich, glowing tone and eloquent phrasing. Pianist Erika Nickrenz has an instinctive sense of musical ebb and flow plus keyboard virtuosity and precision to burn. The beautiful sense of orchestral chamber music the trio brought to the Largo was memorable. The glowing lyricism of their playing seemed to embrace the music. What wonderful dance like vigor and musical verve they brought to the Rondo alla polacca finale! The Eroica Trio offered a "Triple Concerto" to treasure! Jarvi and the orchestra provided beautifully collaborative, eloquent support.
Jarvi responded to the audience's enthusiasm with no less than three encores. Sibelius's "Valse Trieste" was given a lush, glistening rendering (with glowing, silky string playing). Brahms's "Hungarian Dance No.6" had Magyar gusto aplenty. Sibelius's rarely heard "Andante Festivo" had an appropriately ceremonial spirit. The rich string sonority was striking. To each of these vignettes, Jarvi brought style, musicality, and fervor. Felicitous music making!
The Cincinnati Symphony has had many distinguished music directors in its long history - Eugene Ysaye, Leopold Stokowski, Fritz Reiner, Sir Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Michael Gielen, and Jesus Lopez Cobos. Paavo Jarvi is one of the world's outstanding young conductors. The Jarvi-Cincinnati combination is poised to set new artistic standards and make music history. A great concert!