BBC Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi Truls Mørk

Aditus [London première]
Cello Concerto
Pro et contra
Symphony No.5

Truls Mørk (cello)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 24 February, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This mainly Baltic potpourri brought Paavo Järvi back to London for what, I believe, was his first concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. They were joined by Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk for Schumann’s Cello Concerto – given a subtle and rather satisfying performance that insinuated itself in its gentle way through Mørk’s sonorous tone – and also Arvo Pärt’s early (1966) bizarre concoction for cello against orchestra, Pro et contra.

The Pärt reminded of the hare-brained craziness of the almost exactly contemporary ‘Naughty Limericks’ Concerto for Orchestra that Rodion Shchedrin unleashed on an unwary world; here Pärt mixing baroque cadences with the most abstruse ‘modern’ playing techniques, with the cellist as often hitting his instrument with hand or bow rather than actually playing strings. I don’t know whether Pärt wrote it with a hint of irony, but I found it a delightfully witty – if not dotty – work, which – at less than ten minutes – did not outstay its welcome.

The concert’s opening work was Järvi’s fellow-Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür’s homage to the late composer Lepo Sumera, Aditus. It’s effective musical talisman, a scale for brass that first falls and then marks sections in the work by rising and through which the main allegro’s rhythm gains its momentum, is distinctive and memorable. What with Tüür’s Violin Concerto making a similar impression at the Proms with Järvi and the BBC Philharmonic in 2003, we should hear more of Tüür. Järvi’s recording of both works, adding Exodus, is on ECM.

Mørk and Järvi’s recording of the Schumann Cello Concerto is newly out on Virgin Classics (coupled with Bloch’s Schelomo and Bruch’s Kol Nidrei) and Järvi’s account of this concert’s final work – Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony – is coupled with The Rite of Spring on a Telarc release with his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. That coupling is not perhaps as unusual as it might seem, as both works are pretty elemental in their inspiration and are separated into two movements, and they last almost exactly the same length of time.

In the BBC performance of the Nielsen, I wish Järvi had afforded the music more mystery. Nielsen’s power is best served by stealth and on this occasion the Barbican acoustic was too alive for Järvi’s shimmering strings and eerie bassoon duet and, later in the first movement, the “off-stage” side-drum – here in the empty Circle – sounded in a completely different acoustic (and not distant enough). Despite those quibbles, Järvi has a way with Nielsen – and, of course, we don’t hear enough of this great composer, so any chance should be welcomed with both ears.

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