Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 48
 
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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Music/Theater

Maestro Järvi’s Precise Conducting Style Elicits Fine Musicianship From Orchestra

Nancy Plum

How concerts are nicknamed is always an interesting mystery. Programs centered around a composer, geographic region, or soloist create obvious nicknames, but others are more obscure. Friday night’s New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performance in Richardson Auditorium, the first of the ensemble’s Princeton series this year, was subtitled “Järvi and the Dance,” leaving one to wonder what exactly the relationship was between the NJSO Music Director and any nimble-footed dance steps. Although the second half of the program was drawn from the music of ballet, the “dance” of the first half — a Haydn symphony and Brahms concerto — came from the spirit and vitality with which the pieces were performed.

Conductor Järvi is a man of few motions when it comes to leading the orchestra; like former tennis great Ken Rosewall, Mr. Järvi uses precisely what gestures are necessary to achieve the desired result, without waste or excess flair. Mr. Järvi began Haydn’s Symphony No. 97 in a subtly stately manner, and throughout the four-movement work, used restrained physical motions to elicit clean and delicately classical results from the players. In the first movement Vivace, the upper strings were especially lean, backed by very steady bassoons. Haydn’s humor came out in the second movement Adagio, from the punctuation of the winds and clean thirds from the violins. It was also refreshing to be able to hear the violas, a section usually buried within the orchestral fabric. The Trio in the third movement was marked by a solo oboe, smoothly played by Acting Principal Robert Ingliss, paired with the first violins.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s next concert, on Friday, January 4, 2008, will feature works by Stravinsky, Hindemith, Sibelius and Prokofiev, and pianist Yefim Bronfman. Information can be obtained by calling 1-800-ALLEGRO.

Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major is not dance-like in music, despite the gypsy influence of the last movement, but soloist Brittany Sklar brought solid energy and passion to her role in the work. Ms. Sklar, currently a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, was the winner of the NJSO’s 2007 Young Artists Auditions and has won a number of other concerto competitions. All this acclaim has not dampened the refreshing disposition Ms. Sklar brings to the stage, while confidently and decisively attacking the most devilish of violin passages.

Mr. Järvi kept the orchestra full sounding in the opening of the concerto, easily enabling Ms. Sklar to launch into the solo passages with verve. Although it was sometimes difficult to hear all the intricacy of the soloist against the orchestra, Ms. Sklar was very confident in the upper register of her instrument, and both players and conductor brought out the joyous nature of the movement. In the cadenza to the first movement, Ms. Sklar was in full control of the wide range of musical emotions, and the open intervals played in double stops were especially cleanly tuned. Ms. Sklar also had no trouble fitting into the gypsy “swing” of the fourth movement, overall presenting a young and refreshing performing style.

Mr. Järvi programmed music from the ballet world in the second half, with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and a number of dance selections from Gounod’s Faust. The opening Pavane of the Ravel Suite featured delicate solo wind playing, especially from English hornist Andrew Adelson and flutists Bart Feller and Kathleen Nester. A magical aura permeated the third movement “Laideronette,” with again exceptional wind playing from the oboes and flutes, as well as clarinetist Karl Herman. Contrabassoonist Andrew Lamy added a graceful solo to the fourth movement, joined by harpist Lise Nadeau Harman.

The Faust selections, as one might expect, were heavy in the lower brass, and these selections showed the most physical movement from Maestro Järvi seen in the evening. The violins maintained a very nice flow, and in the “Danse Antique,” flute, piccolo and clarinet demonstrated breathtaking unison playing.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra recently announced the sale of its “Golden Instruments” collection, although the ensemble will retain performance rights to the instruments for some time to come. The Haydn in particular was tailor-made for that collection, and with or without those instruments, the NJSO demonstrated their precision and grace of play.

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