Friday, May 7, 2021

Elbphilharmonie, Platz der Deutschen Einheit 4, 20457 Hamburg, Germany

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Paavo Järvi is immersed in music-making. Organised, disciplined, in tune with his musicians, prizing clarity and fidelity, immaculately prepared, nothing seems beyond his capacity or enthusiasm. He reminds me of an ace sportsman – each venue another circuit to visit, each orchestra a fresh track, table or court to play, a classic high-spec car to drive. Last weekend he was in Bremen with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, seducing us with the Strauss family and Viennese rubato (Wiener Philharmoniker take note). In April he offered Mozart and Schumann in Amsterdam with the Royal Concertgebouw, in March Beethoven and Prokofiev with the Berliner Philharmoniker. He’s also been busy recording and webcasting Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, distinguished cycles in the forging. In these pandemic times he’s managed to ensure a comforting, energised presence around Europe, a pair of safe hands and reassuring smile making life the more bearable for players and listeners alike.

Never an ensemble to let standards slip, the strings of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester were finely showcased in Tchaikovsky’s 1880 Serenade. With antiphonal violins, this was an account of glowing, deep-throated sonority and character: dynamically extreme at the quieter end of the scale, elegantly playful in the Waltz, impassioned and grave in the Elegy, knife-edge ‘Russian’ in the Finale, a stamping troika at full tilt. Given the streamlined groups Järvi works with, certain parameters are always going to be promised – on this occasion the balance and unanimity of chording, and the sensuously velvet quality of the pizzicato passages. Come the end, body language electric with concentration and exultation, you felt everyone relished having been put through their paces, getting their instruments to speak and resonate at their superior best. Classy.

Between 2009 and 2013 Järvi recorded Carl Nielsen’s Six Symphonies in Frankfurt, released integrally in 2015 (RCA). Unsurprisingly, this reading of the Second, ‘The Four Temperaments’ (1901-02) – Nielsen astride new worlds while yet honouring the past – was a taut, brilliantly lit affair. Järvi’s interpretation – score open, double basses to the left, drums to the right – stressed structure, motifs and moods, things like the inventive flamboyance of the timpani writing, the bassoon duet and Tchaikovskian coda of the ‘Phlegmatic’ second movement, the Slavic melancholy and heavy-brass climaxes of the third, sticking in the memory. Of the ‘Sanguine’ Finale, the composer said that he “tried to sketch a man who storms thoughtlessly forward in the belief that the whole world belongs to him.” Such a being, Robert Simpson assayed (they litter history), “cares not a fig for the world; difficulties do not deter him, for he has never heard of difficulties; he is full of rude vigour and gutsy laughter.” All or nothing was Järvi’s message, the orchestra up for the challenge, no prisoners taken, generating maximum intensity through the long pause and string Adagio just before the close. Virtuoso stuff.

Royal Concertgebouworkest – Víkingur Ólafsson plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.24, Paavo Järvi conducts Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony [live webcast]

Berliner Philharmoniker – Paavo Järvi conducts Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony, Igor Levit plays Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto [live webcast]