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Champagne, Haydn, Schubert Celebrate Neeme Järvi's Appointment With the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony orchestra celebrated Neeme Järvi's appointment as Music Director last week with a four-concert series in the orchestra's venues throughout the state. Friday night's performance in Richardson Auditorium was followed by a champagne reception in which cleverly-embossed NJSO champagne flutes were given to audience members as keepsakes. Clearly, the relationship between Järvi and the NJSO is one the orchestra intends to make last.

Friday night's concert, subtitled Haydn the Miraculous, featured three substantial works and the piano playing of an electrifying young star of the keyboard. Haydn's Symphony No. 96 (The Miracle) was the first of his London symphonies marking his mature and most renowned style. Mr. Järvi opened the work with a broad Adagio, eliciting a light touch from the strings. Mr. Järvi is one of the last of the old school of understated conducting, in which less is more, where a simple gesture with the hand can convey a myriad of meanings. Throughout the symphony, all sections of the strings spoke clearly, especially in the first movement allegro, in which the second violins had a chance to carry the theme. The horns and bassoons were subtly unassuming in the second movement Andante, which was also noteworthy for Carolyn Pollak's solo oboe playing and a closing violin solo cadenza by concertmaster Eric Wyrick. Mr. Järvi has no fear of silence, and easily drew out the silences in this work for their dramatic effect.

With this concert, Mr. Järvi took the opportunity to pair his old world conducting style with what is new and exciting in the performing arena. Pianist Jie Chen was admitted to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute at the age of twelve, and in the seven years since, has been dazzling audiences and orchestras nationwide with her concerto performances.

Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 in e minor shows the composers command of opera and his ability to transfer the flashiest elements of the operatic stage to the keyboard. The piano solo in this concerto seems to tell a story, and Ms. Chen played with force, as well as nuance and delicacy. The long orchestra introduction to the first movement traversed several musical styles, and Ms. Chen had no trouble assimilating the operatic melodies and dramatic shifts into her keyboard style. A duet between piano and bassoon (played by Robert Wagner) was delicately executed, and Ms. Chen demonstrated formidable strength in her arms to keep the virtuoso piano part going for extended periods of time.

The third substantial work of the evening, Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in Bb Major, is not often heard, in favor of Schubert's other better-known symphonies. Mr. Järvi brought out well the Viennese effects and elegance, and at times stepped back and allowed the music to essentially play itself, especially in the second movement Andante.

Neeme Järvi's schedule with the orchestra may be somewhat limited in this, his first year, but it is clear the orchestra sees itself on a new path. Given the ensemble's recent news of its fiscal success this past season, this seems to be a path that should make New Jersey audiences happy.

NJSO next performance will be on Friday, November 25, featuring music of Enesco, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, conducted by Lawrence Foster. Ticket information can be obtained by calling 1-800-ALLEGRO.


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