DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Neeme Jarvi 70th Birthday Jubilee (2010)

“A family affair,” the celebration of conductor Neeme Jarvi’s 70th Birthday Jubilee (26 May 2007) in Talinn, Estonia has all the trappings of a religious festival.

Published on July 29, 2010

Neeme Jarvi 70th Birthday Jubilee (2010)

Neeme Jarvi 70th Birthday Jubilee (2010)

Program: KAPP: Poehjarannik; TOERMIS: Kolm mul oli kaunst soena; SIBELIUS: Finlandia; ELLER: Three Pieces fro Flute and String Orchestra; NIELSEN: Three Movements from Aladdin Suite; LISZT: A Faust Symphony
Performers: Maarika Jarvi, flute/Juhan Tralla, tenor/ Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Estonian National Male Choir/Kristjan Jarvi/ Paavo Jarvi/Neeme Jarvi
Studio: VAI DVD 4443
Video: 16:9 Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
All regions
Length: 121 minutes
Rating: ****

Truly “a family affair,” the celebration of conductor Neeme Jarvi’s 70th Birthday Jubilee (26 May 2007) in Talinn, Estonia brought out the entire community–including Estonian President Toomas–to the Estonian Concert Hall for a program selected by Neeme Jarvi himself. His sons Paavo Jarvi and Kristjan Jarvi–along with flute virtuoso Maarika Jarvi–participate in a colorfully vibrant concert that exudes national pride and artistic confidence.

Prior to the concert segment, we have a glimpse of the Jarvi household: interviews with wife Lillia Jarvi and each of her gifted children. “My husband loves and adores music,” Lillia exclaims, “and it is a family history and tradition. A house and atmosphere of classical music put the love into their blood.” Kristjan elaborates: My father did not insist that we become musicians–but it became the curiosity that killed the cat.” “He has the capacity to infect us with a curiosity about music,” adds Paavo, “and so I wanted to be a conductor since I was five-years-old. He showed us so much enthusiasm for every new piece–and he made it so much fun.” Kristjan puts his home’s music into perspective: “Talinn in Estonia is not an ‘international’ locale; our language and our culture is all, especially after we broke away fifteen years ago from the Soviet Union. So, music gives us the identity we crave.”


Neeme Jarvi leads the opening piece–one of several that features the Estonian Male Choir–in a piece by national composer Villem Kapp (1913-1964), entitled Northern Coast, a combination of pastoral and march that alternates between soft ariosi–a kind of homage to the sea–and  more boisterous outer sections marked by cymbal crashes and fervent trombones. Then, flutist Maarika Jarvi joins Neeme Jarvi for I Had Three Beautiful Words by Veljo Tormis (b. 1930), a tripartite serenade in muted colors wherein the chorus intones in sighs and whispers of love. At the finale, Jarvi beckons the composer to receive a red rose in appreciation of his colors.

Paavo Jarvi makes only one appearance, and this a massive rendition of the Sibelius Finlandia, with the male chorus intoning the Finnish equivalent of “Be Still My Soul.” Brilliant but relaxed through long association, the piece gains a decisive momentum at the finale, with brass blazing and Paavo Jarvi much pleased with the resounding chords of Finnish independence. Maarika and Kristjan Jarvi appear to perform Three Pieces for Flute and String Orchestra (trans. Charles Coleman) by Heino Eller (1865-1970). A conservative syntax marks these lovely program pieces, entitled “In the Valley,” “On the River,” and “In the Meadow,” which makes them distant cousins of the Frederick Delius school of musical thought.  Each of the dances is a bucolic lyric paean to Nature, light and breezy, the second of which might suggest a wayfarer’s whistled tune.

Kristjan Jarvi makes a solo appearance with three excerpts from Nielsen’s Aladdin Suite, highly energized in the Dane’s pomp, idiosyncratic harmony and erotic syntax, each suggestive of Arabia or at least–in the third dance called “African Dance”–a moment from Tunis or Algeria. Wonderful battery effects from the Estonian National Orchestra certify their virtuosic sense for color and rhythm, each new addition to the spectrum urging Kristjan Jarvi to more convulsive ecstasies.


Lastly, but certainly the main attraction, Neeme Jarvi leads a powerfully etched rendition of Liszt’s Eine Faust-Sinfonie (1857) after the epic by Goethe. The huge orchestra and chorus, including solo tenor Juhan Tralla and pipe organ, follows Jarvi’s every facial crease and hand gesture with due reverence. Conceived in three programmatic movements–the third Mephisto movement an inversion of themes from the first Faust movement–Liszt’s music exploits all twelve tones of the chromatic scale and in several respects foreshadows the “crisis of harmony” incarnate in Schoenberg. Only the second movement, Gretchen, remains thematically intact resistant to the Devil’s wiles and acts accordingly as an impetus to the tenor’s repeated plaint that “the Eternal Feminine leads us onward.” Even if we do not particularly worship at Liszt’s musical altar, we can plainly witness in literally iconic terms that the Estonians treated this Neeme Jarvi Day as a religious pilgrimage.  

–Gary Lemco





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