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Vol. LXV, No. 48
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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Music/Theater

Conductor Järvi Returns to New Jersey With Music of Scandinavia and Russia

Nany Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra subtitled its “Black Friday” concert “Music you can taste,” perhaps in homage to the Thanksgiving holiday. Friday night’s program in Richardson Auditorium was a concert for the senses, as one could feel the snow and the nippy cold of the Nordic composers selected. Conductor Laureate Neeme Järvi returned to the ensemble he directed in the mid-2000s, to lead a concert of precision and musical transparency.

Maestro Järvi has championed the music of Johann Halverson, a late 19th-century Norwegian composer whose music is certainly not well known in this country. Halverson’s five-movement Suite Ancienne is a tribute to the 17th and 18th centuries, infusing Baroque musical forms with a refreshing wintry crispness.

Maestro Järvi used strong conducting strokes to emphasize the suite’s classical nature, accompanied by very light percussion, including a delicate triangle. A pair of oboes played by James Roe and Andrew Adelson recurred throughout the suite, adding an elegant touch to the orchestral color, and Mr. Roe joined bassoonist Robert Wagner in a graceful duet in the second movement “Air.” The orchestra found effective dynamic contrasts in this second movement, supported by lightning quick piccolo playing from Kathleen Nester.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 in D Major has a long history of performance featuring the presenting ensemble’s concertmaster, rather than a visiting star. Prokofiev composed the work at the tail end of World War I and in the height of the Russian Revolution, when instrumental soloists were hard to come by. By coincidence, key performances throughout the 20th century in this country also featured soloists from within the host ensembles, and New Jersey Symphony continued the tradition by placing concertmaster Eric Wyrick at the front of the stage as soloist. Mr. Wyrick certainly proved himself of star quality, as he tackled the nearly continuous and virtuostic solo lines with expert playing. This concerto was short by early 20th century standards, and contained many neo-classical elements heard in other charming Prokofiev works. Mr. Wyrick’s opening melodic line blended right into the subsequent winds, as he played the opening “dreamy” lines with definition. The cadenza to the first movement was a long continuous double stop, which Mr. Wyrick played dramatically, accompanied by a very light touch on the harp. Mr. Järvi maintained strong contrasts among the movements, emphasizing the driving rhythms of the second movement leading to clock-like string accompaniment in the closing “Moderato” (an unusual tempo for a concerto final movement). Both soloist and ensemble brought the concerto to a lyrical close as the solo violin shimmered against the melodies from the other instruments.

The orchestra closed the concert with another work of icy clarity. Finnish composer Jean Sibelius composed Symphony No. 2 in D at a time when the Mahlerian concept of “bigger is better” ruled the orchestral landscape. With many complex ideas swirling within the same movement, the conductor’s job is to hold things together and find direction amid a lot of things happening at once. This symphony contained unique orchestration (such as the second movement’s opening sectional double bass solo), and Mr. Järvi maintained expansiveness and allowed instrumental solos to speak well.

Again, oboes were very clean amidst flowing textures, and in the second movement, the strings maintained an effective triple meter against bassoonist Robert Wagner’s duple meter solo line. All movements were marked by full and clean brass, with occasional haunting trumpet solos. Jonathan Spitz’s cello solos came to light in the third movement, leading to a lush “Finale,” all punctuated by crisp timpani played by Randall Hicks.

With five years of experience with Maestro Järvi, the players of New Jersey Symphony were well used to his conducting style and clearly enjoyed playing for him. Mr. Järvi gives the impression that nothing fazes him on the stage, and even with the new approach Jacques Lacombe has brought to the ensemble, it was refreshing to briefly return to the successes of the past decade.

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