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Third Opinion: NSO Plays Sibelius 2

available at Amazon
Sibelius, Symphonies / Tone Poems, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, N. Järvi
(DG, 2007)

available at Amazon
H. Eller, Five Pieces for String Orchestra, Scottish National Orchestra, N. Järvi
(Alliance, 1992)
Neeme Järvi returned to the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra last week, for the first time since 2013. Now in his late 70s, Järvi was understated in a program representing his strengths, including an ensemble debut of a work by fellow Estonian Heino Eller. To go along with reports of the first two performances, here are some additional thoughts on the third performance, heard on Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Neeme Järvi has recorded the Sibelius symphonies twice with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, once for BIS and once for Deutsche Grammophon. Neither cycle ranks highly in our estimation, but he led a solid, somewhat earthy rendition of the composer's second symphony. The horns complied with his demands for brilliant, full sound, as did all the members of the brass section, with thrilling interpretations of the ff and fff sections. The pulsating main theme of the first movement, marked with tenuto accents under slurs, surged in the strings, dissonance-laden harmonies amassed over the D pedal in the basses and second cellos. For its tense qualities, the opening of the second movement, with the timpani summoning pizzicato basses and cellos to accompany the melody in the bassoon, seemed more like the opening of Die Walküre than it normally does, and the third movement was startlingly fast, in keeping with the Vivacissimo marking. All evening long, the cell phones and watch alarms of the audience intruded, worst of all at the quite moments of this movement's trio, but the seamless transition into the finale set up beautifully paced surges of sound to the returns of one of Sibelius's most famous melodies.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Jarvi’s insouciance gets results from the NSO (Washington Post, January 15)

Robert R. Reilly, NSO, Neemi Järvi, and Baiba Skride (Ionarts, January 16)
To go with James Ehnes's performance of Prokofiev's second violin concerto this past fall, Järvi led a relatively rare rendition of the composer's first violin concerto, not heard from the NSO since 1999. Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, last heard with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2011, was in disappointing form for the first time in my experience, her intonation especially not quite right far too often. It is a work that should be tailored to her strengths, with its dreamy introduction paired with flute and clarinets and a melancholy, music-box pseudo-cadenza at the end of the first movement with harp and piccolo. The G string of her Stradivarius (ex-Baron Feilitzsch, 1734) growled in the second movement, which turns into a perverse march, and she had her best moments on the soaring lines of the finale, where the intonation issues were minimal. Unlike Thursday night, Skride offered no encore. The Five Pieces for String Orchestra by Heino Eller, best known as having taught Arvo Pärt, were pleasant to discover, rather simple character pieces composed for piano and arranged for soupy strings.

Next week Christoph Eschenbach returns to the podium, with Daniel Müller-Schott playing the Dvořák cello concerto. Over the next two weeks, the NSO will be playing through the repertory planned for its European tour, lasting most of the month of February.

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