Sunday, October 10, 2021

National Symphony Review: Paavo Jarvi

 If Paavo Jarvi isn't named director of one of the world's great orchestras, the music world isn't paying attention. And of course, they're not.

Jarvi is one of those complete musicians for whom there is no distinction between head, heart, body, fingers and soul.  There is only music, and a musician this perceptive provides a consistency of excellence which makes an ideal music director. In any era, you can count such conductors on your hand, and however good the orchestra they face is, you can expect they'll sound like a better one because he faces them. You can hear Jarvi's all around excellence any time you wish on his many youtube videos. 

What his many superb recordings don't prepare you for is how spontaneous he is. At every moment of Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, he guided the music to a new unexpected place, an unforeseen bend of the phrase tied directly to the harmonic tension, a rarely heard inner voice, a new balance or blend between instruments, all of which did nothing to distend the form and built seamlessly to most enormous climaxes. I've gone to the Kennedy Center to hear Tchaikovsky 5 done by Gergiev, Barenboim, and Gatti, and they all did it very well. Jarvi did it better. Perhaps the first movement was slightly less intense thanks to some idiots near me who brought their baby (you read that right), but all throughout, the level of detail, insight and personality, was overwhelming. This is what it must have been like to hear Munch or Fricsay live. 

Even by their newly awakened standards under Gianandrea Noseda's directorship, the National Symphony sounded electric in a way they never used to be. Noseda does wonderful work, but ever the Italian, Noseda's always focused on maximizing the drama, even in lyrical passages. Jarvi finds a relaxed poetry in lyrical music which Noseda hasn't yet found, and the relaxation makes dramatic passages all the more exciting. The NSO's playing was not perfect, but aside from a terrifyingly fast tempo in the scherzo's trio that threatened ungluing, the playing was 'great enough': alive, electric, simultaneously disciplined and passionate. 

At the beginning of the concert was a brief opener, Aditus, by the gifted Estonian Ekki Sven-Tuur. A masterpiece it's not. Tuur can best be described as a 'user-friendly modernist', but this opener was surprisingly uncompromising, packed wall-to-wall with loud dissonances. Nevertheless, Jarvi'd clearly drilled the NSO to absolute security, and they sounded fantastically assured in every bar. 

In between was the now venerable French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, whose flashy outfits never disappoint. He entered wearing an entirely formal leather black jacket. Thibaudet's performance of Liszt's Second Piano Concerto was neither fish nor foul. It was neither bravura enough to electrify, nor austere enough to draw attention to Liszt's formal innovations. Jarvi's accompaniment was perhaps a  too properly Lisztian for Thibaudet's approach, providing a bravura Thibaudet was unwilling to match.   

Thibaudet's only fault was that he chose to play this piece, because it's a very tough one to make work, and not as great a piece as its reputation. The only pianist I've heard make sense of it was Stephen Hough, live in Baltimore. Afterwards, Thibaudet made his trip to the Washington worthwhile with a beautiful encore; I think it was Liszt's posthumously found Piano Piece in F-sharp Major. Thibaudet's relaxed ease and gentle flow worked far more to this piece's advantage, and I was left wanting to hear Thibaudet play many more encores.

Paavo Jarvi


Sibelius 2

Nielsen 4

Shostakovich 5

Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet 

No comments:

Post a Comment