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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Orchestra, Baltic Portraits

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra visit five greater- or lesser-known contemporary composers from the Baltic region and five corresponding orchestral works on Baltic Portraits (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Media 946). Paavo Jarvi conducts his way through the works with a good feel for orchestral detail and a full-fledged sense of the whole of each work.

Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" is the one work many will have probably heard in one or more versions. CSO gives us a full, heart-felt reading that veers more to the side of warmth rather than elevator-shaft spookiness.

Two major symphonies act as bookends to the program. Aulis Sallinen's Symphony No. 8 has a sort of contemporary saga quality, with a wealth of melodically inventive passages that engage with a narrative quality. There is a boldness of rhythmic dynamics and a neo-post-romantic discursive unfolding. Lepo Sumera's Symphony No. 6 has contrasting blocks of mysterioso pianissimo orchestral murmurs bumping against more agitated, complex sound bursts.

The shorter works help provide variety and set off the longer pieces well. Erkki-Sven Tuur's "Fireflower" has post-impressionist shimmer and very evocative sound-sculpturing. Esa-Pekka Salonen (more known of course at this point for his conducting) provides in "Gambit" a sure-footed orchestral conception with soundscaped tone-painting that make for one of the more intriguing pieces on the program.

All-in-all Jarvi and the CSO do well in presenting us with quite respectable performances of works that deserve the hearing they get. I suspect that none of these versions are definitive at this point, but they do reveal a most interesting set of sonic experiences I feel I am the better for hearing. Worth a listen!

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