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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Concert Review: A Tale of Two Brothers

Paavo Järvi leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cellist Gualtier Capuçon joined the Philharmonic last week.
Photo from the artist's website. 
The conductor Paavo Järvi comes from a proud family with a long musical tradition. Together with his father Neeme and his brother Kristjian, the Järvi family forms a triumvirate of conductors regularly heard around the world. On Friday morning, he was the replacement for Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who had to postpone her planned Philharmonic debut for medical reasons.

For this program, Mr. Järvi was joined by cellist Gautier Capuçon, who is also from a musical family. (Mr. Capuçon's brother René is scheduled to play with the orchestra next month. The program featured three works: Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, an excerpt from Sibelius's Lemminkainen Suite and the second suite from Ravel's Daphnis et Chlöe..

From his entry, Mr. Capuçon surprised the ear with his approach to playing the solo part in the Dvořák. It was not so much his phrasing or rhythm but his tone: high, woody, wheedling with the plaintive quality of a hurdy-gurdy or an oboe. However it was ideal for cutting through the thick swaddle of orchestral accompaniment. This tone proved a signature and not a distraction, one that made this performance distinguished.

The pathetique sound of his cello proved most suited to the central movement, a sweed, sad and slow love song that Dvořák wrote for the love of his youth. The cello lamented in a glorious well of tears. Mr. Järvi the spurred the orchestra into the finale, a gleeful Cech dance with Mr. Capuçon's instrument skittering over its surface. The concerto ends not with a slam-bang solo passage but on a gentle, reflective note for the cello, followed a percussive, riotous coda.

"Riotous" is a good way to describe Lemminkainen and the Maidens of the Island, drawn by Jean Sibelius from the Kalevela, Finland's national epic. This allegro tone poem is the first of four in a suite chronicling the adventures of Lemminkainen. Here, our hero is kind of a Don Juan of the north, bedding hundreds of women in three years worth of visits to a particular fishing island.

Mr. Järvi allowed the kinetic rhythms and sawing folk melodies (a trademark of the composer's early style) room to flower forth. The music burst and bristled with energy, capturing the electric joy and ebullience of Lemminkainen's bed-hopping adventures. This Suite which features three more depictions of this hero's travels and adventures should be heard in concert more often.

Ravel's Daphnis et Chlöe is a much more frequent visitor. Here, Mr. Järvi presented the second suite drawn from the ballet score, with its vivid and delicate dawn music, the joyful pas de deux of the two protagonists and the explosive finish. Here, Mr. Järvi led the players in a boisterous danse generale, bringing the excitement and energy of this vivid music to full and roaring life.

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