Neemi Jarvi works an orchestra like an angler playing a fish. The young conductor, recently arrived from Russia, led the Pheladelphia Orchestra in a program characterized by brilliance and energy at the Kennedy Center last night.
Jarvi has a repertoire of conductorial gestures that boggles the mind. Is the piccolo to dance through an ornamental filigree? Jarvis will trace its outline. Are the horns playing three beats against a sturdy string four? Jarvi's two hands will split the job.
All this virtuosity notwhithstanding, there were moments in last night's concert when the orchestra didn't move at his beck and call. Most notably was an odd ritard he signaled for in the middle of the first movement of the Mendelssohn "Italian" Symphony that aborted halfway through. A ritard had no business there anyway and, undoubtedly, the orchestra knew that.
This was a fast, rather than a fleet, performance of the symphony, one that had a nice measure of momentum but also a hassled air about it.
Jarvi, for all his assertiveness, had a tendency all evening to uneven tempos that lent to everything an air of uneasy expectancy.
The finest music-making came in the Tchaikovsky Third Symphony where the orchestra's marvelous forces had opportunities to make individual statements. These were made with distinction helped in part by Jarvi's evident ease and security with the idiom.