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MUSIC REVIEW : Paavo Jarvi in Bowl Debut: A Fine Chip Off the Old Block

August 24, 1995|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

Yes. It is true. Once in a while, the son also rises. It happened Tuesday night at Hollywood Bowl.

The son in this case is Paavo Jarvi. Remember the name.

He was born 32 years ago in Talinn, Estonia. Since 1980, he has called America his home, completing his studies at Juilliard, Curtis and, briefly, the lamented L.A. Philharmonic Institute. He is very busy these days leading orchestras in Scandinavia, most notably the Malmo Symphony.

Although the fact is oddly ignored in the biography printed in the Bowl program, his father happens to be conductor Neeme Jarvi, current music director of the Detroit Symphony. The talent, apparently, is all in the family.

The history books don't exactly brim with stories of batons passing with success from one generation to the next. There was, of course, the celebrated case of Richard Wagner and his beleaguered offspring Siegfried, not to mention the waltzing Strausses, pere and fils . In our day, connoisseurs enjoy making comparisons between the Kleibers--"old" Erich and "young" Carlos. For the most part, however, the chips fall far from the podium block.

Although generalizations are admittedly treacherous, Neeme Jarvi would seem to be a fine, no-nonsense, old-school musician who thrives on unabashed romantic breadth. On the basis of his initial appearance here, Paavo Jarvi would seem to be more impetuous, more quixotic, perhaps more dynamic. He obviously has--and uses--a mind of his own.

He also has a brisk and crisp technique that commanded attentive cooperation from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, an unfamiliar orchestra that has every right to be mired in late-summer doldrums. Not unlike a certain Finnish colleague, Jarvi knows how to stay reasonably calm while making the music flamboyant. Even in a program dominated by tired repertory warhorses, he managed to sustain high levels of energy while asserting surprising degrees of expressive independence.

To open the program, he presided over a jaunty and sometimes wild jog through Richard Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel." The pranks on this occasion tended to sound sardonic rather than merry, occasionally even discordant. That may be an enlightened interpretation. It also may be the result of microphone distortion, an occupational hazard these nights at Cahuenga Pass.

To close the program, Jarvi confronted the bloated cliches of the Tchaikovsky Fourth with a clear head, a flexible heart and a precise beat. He dared make the slow passages very slow, the fast ones very fast indeed. His penchant for extreme indulgences extended to matters of volume and phrasing as well.

In all, he gave an extraordinarily supple, remarkably nuanced performance. Although it wasn't always coherent in all its fluctuations, it came astonishingly close to making the trite sound spontaneous. That alone is a noteworthy achievement, and an audience tabulated at 8,133 responded with blissful approval.

The central soloist was Alexander Toradze, who blazed and blustered his way through Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto with nifty nonchalance. In his mighty hands, the knuckle-busting hurdles didn't resemble hurdles at all.

The pianist met the composer's demands for percussive bravura with ample sympathy yet never slighted the equally important demands for piquant reverie. This was a dazzling, stylish demonstration of virtuosity, sensitively seconded at every turn by Jarvi and the Philharmonic.

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