Friday, February 20, 2004

'Rite of Spring' raw, electrifying

Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It had a raw, primal power that went right through your body.

On a spring-like evening Thursday night, Paavo Jarvi led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Stravinsky's explosive ballet score The Rite of Spring. Jarvi's view was bold and unrelenting, and the orchestra's playing was almost brutal. Every beat was taut - even the silences had electricity.

The Rite was part of an electrifying concert that included the Japanese violinist Midori playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and brought the good-sized crowd twice to its feet.

The ballet score depicts a pagan rite, in which a young girl dances herself to death in a sacrifice to the god of spring. Some of its power was due to the sheer number of players onstage - 107 musicians, including 21 brass players, 20 winds and a large array of percussion.

The opening bassoon solo (William Winstead) was sinewy and eerie. Jarvi led the pulsating ostinatos of the first part, Adoration of the Earth, bouncing his whole body at times, and in full command of the tricky meter changes. The brass playing was spectacular. The horns lifted their bells, the winds shrieked and the strings played as if their lives depended on it.

The conductor kept a tight rein on tempos. The Sacrifice was mystical and awe-filled; the barbaric drumbeats leaped out at the listener. The final "Sacrificial Dance" had unrelenting intensity and weight. Most impressive was the precision and attack of the orchestra in one of Stravinsky's most difficult scores. They'll record it for Telarc on Monday.

In the first half, Midori brought her extraordinary artistry to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Her sound is not large, but it is refined and flawless, and her technique is spectacular.

Hers was a deeply personal interpretation of Tchaikovsky - though I felt it was a bit over-romanticized and not terribly Russian. Yet her first movement cadenza was a stunning high-wire act, with such gorgeous sound, the audience seemed to be holding its breath.

The slow movement was intimate and nostalgic, and she phrased with poetry and nuance. She dug into the finale robustly, playing with brilliance and breathtaking speed.

The program opened with the orchestra's first performance of Martinu's arresting and evocative Frescoes of Piero Della Francesca.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today at Music Hall. Tickets: 381-3300.

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