By Lawrence Budmen

The music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen was the featured attraction with some Mozart added for good measure when the  Estonian born conductor Paavo Jarvi took the podium of the New World Symphony on Saturday night at the Lincoln Theater. A  member of a distinguished musical dynasty, Jarvi galvanized the young players to some of their most riveting performances of  the season. 

Conducting Fellow Benjamin Shwartz opened the evening with a lethargic performance of Sibelius’s Finlandia. Under Shwartz’s  plodding direction orchestral details were muddy and indistinct. There was nearly a total absence of instrumental color or  dynamic variety. The music was played at an unrelenting forte. 

Jarvi led a brisk, supple account of Mozart’s Symphony No.39. From the first bars of the introductory Adagio Jarvi commanded  astonishing orchestral control. His bracing performance was definitely not powdered wig Mozart. Taking his cue from such  pioneers of the period instrument movement as Nikolas Harnencourt, Jarvi fielded a reduced ensemble with vibrato less strings  and felicitous woodwinds. It was refreshing to hear the Menuetto played with such incisive energy and vigor. The final  Allegro literally sparkled with vivacity and élan.

Nielsen’s Symphony No.6 (Sinfonia Semplice) is both witty and deeply pessimistic. This 1925 score is a musical portrait of a world on the verge of chaos and disintegration. A deceptively light and elegant opening subject leads to harmonic and thematic ambiguity. The grim humor of the Humoresque (with its enlarged percussion battery) contrasts with the deeply pensive and emotional writing for the lower strings in the Proposta seria movement. Jarvi conducted a magisterial performance that  never lost sight of the grand arc of Nielsen’s musical invention. In the concluding Theme and Variations he superbly gauged  mercurial changes of tempo and mood. Jarvi and his brilliant players recreated a unique sound world that encompassed Mahler’s  expressionism, Stravinsky’s tart neo-classicism, and Schoenberg’s excursions beyond tonality. Demonstrating a vibrant dynamic  palette, he unleashed the orchestra in full throttle fortissimos and brought the sound down to a mere whisper. Jarvi vividly  delineated the agony and the ecstasy of this restless score. 

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