Sunday, December 09, 2001

Clarinetist shines in difficult works




By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When principal clarinetist Richard Hawley stepped out to play two concertos Friday morning, it was an example of the real virtuosity that lies within the ranks of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

        It was also a feat of stamina — Mr. Hawley tackled Copland's Clarinet Concerto and Debussy's Premiere rapsodie back to back.

        The works for clarinet formed the centerpiece to an attractive program led by music director Paavo Jarvi — who inspired the kind of playing that caused one listener to say, “I hope the honeymoon lasts forever.”

        The concert was all about connections: musical connections between works that began with Bernstein and ended with Albert Roussel — and connections between the players and the audience. (The audience cheered.)

        If Mr. Hawley's interpretation of the Copland Concerto didn't swing quite as much as that of Benny Goodman, for whom Copland wrote the piece, it was fluid, witty and absolutely convincing. Mr. Hawley's phrasing sounded natural and fresh, and his personality projected through the music.

        With the orchestra painting a luminous backdrop, his opening phrases seamlessly captured the serene mood. The cadenza linking the two movements was beautifully paced, as he balanced lyricism with the work's jazzy elements.

        The clarinetist's timbre was warm, with brightness at the top. His focus never wavered, despite an unfortunate squeak in the stratosphere at the cadenza's end. (He nailed the work's ending “smear,” though.)

        The finale sparkled, and the orchestra added a memorable bluesy moment with slapping bass (Owen Lee).

        Most impressive, though, was the unified spirit between orchestra and soloist. Nowhere was this so evident as in Debussy's First Rhapsody, a sublime collaboration between Mr. Hawley's long, arching phrases and the sensuous sound of Mr. Jarvi's orchestra.

        The French theme continued after intermission in Debussy's Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun. Mr. Jarvi cultivated shimmering strings and a reflective mood, allowing principal flutist Randolph Bowman great freedom.

        The morning concluded with Roussel's Symphony No. 3, performed here just once before. The music of this onetime French naval officer showed some influence of Germany — but especially 1920s Paris.

        Each movement was uniquely engaging: the second had a central fugue that conjured up Mahler's Klezmer music. Mr. Jarvi kept the brass articulation crisp and urged his players on to great, sweeping climaxes.

        The conductor's wake-up call was Leonard Bernstein's Divertimento for Orchestra, written in 1980 for the Boston Symphony's centennial, in its first CSO performance. Although the extroverted brass fanfares were not entirely clean, Mr. Jarvi led the string of tongue-in-cheek dances with flair. The trombone playing in the “Blues” (Cristian Ganicenco) smoldered.

       



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