By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
If the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra continues to play with as much precision as it has the first two weeks of the season, it will become serious competition for the top orchestras in the country.
Paavo Jarvi followed his blockbuster opening weekend with a markedly different program on Friday, one that was about classical balance, subtlety and remarkable musicianship. Besides the orchestra's irresistible playing of music by Ravel and Mozart, there was an extraordinary guest pianist named Richard Goode, who made his debut in Bartok's Concerto No. 3. And for the second week, the crowd was treated to an encore.
A bear of a man with a silver mane, Goode hunched over the keyboard, mouthed the notes along with the music, and delivered a riveting performance of Bartok's last concerto. A native of New York, he is a deeply involved pianist and an elegant technician - every note seemed perfectly calculated for color and beauty. Yet he had power to spare, particularly in the bravura final moments, but never for the sake of being flashy.
Bartok's Third, not heard here in a decade, is a lyrical masterpiece; its joyous tone belies the fact that the composer was dying. Goode captured the improvisational nature of the opening folk tune, and communicated the work's lyricism with ringing tone, even in its most powerful, percussive passages.
The slow movement was striking for its atmosphere; Goode's chords in the opening chorale were beautifully voiced. At its center was a wondrous example of Bartok's "night music," with shimmering colors and bird calls in orchestra and piano.
Jarvi swept along the orchestra in perfect union, aided by Goode, who played as if they were performing chamber music. Their finale was a brilliant dialogue, anchored by Goode's pristine playing in the Bach-like fugal passages.
The pianist played his encore, J.S. Bach's Sarabande in D Major, with profound but simple beauty. His touch was luminous, and at the end, an audible sigh went up from the audience.
Jarvi opened with Ravel's Five Nursery Songs from Mother Goose, a suite of elegant miniatures. He emphasized the pieces' child-like nature, and found exquisite detail in each phrase.
Sleeping Beauty's "Pavane" had a magical serenity; the "Empress of the Pagodas" was infused with Asian color (with impressive contributions from Richard Jensen on the xylophone).
Even when the orchestra was pianissimo, the strings had a glowing richness. It ended on a magical note with "The Fairy Garden."
After intermission, Jarvi strode out and plunged without pausing into the unsettling opening bars of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550.
There was hardly a note out of place in the orchestra, but more important was the musicality and fire with which they played.
Jarvi's tempos were brisk. The first movement was full of tension and dark sound, but the strings phrased with noticeable warmth. He led the "Andante" with momentum, and the "Minuetto" was robust, with a "Trio" of delicate winds.
The finale was impassioned and vigorous. Jarvi made much of its dynamic contrasts, and the musicians tackled it with electric playing. It earned the evening's second standing ovation from the small crowd. With such music making, this should have been standing-room-only.
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