When Lynn Harrell loped across the Pick-Staiger stage Sunday evening, gripping his cello in his paw-like hands, he was trailed by seven cellists from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The audience buzzed with anticipation; from the very start, this concert felt like an event within Northwestern’s annual Winter Chamber Music Festival.
As Garry Clarke and Baroque Band launched into George Frideric Handel’s Overture to Ronaldo Wednesday evening, Symphony Center’s Grainger Ballroom was transformed into a salon; an acoustic and visual gem of a space, the ballroom’s warm setting was the perfect place to hear the Band.
Joining the ensemble of Baroque specialists was cellist Jennifer Morsches in Nicola Porpora’s Cello Concerto in G Major. The concerto is a particularly difficult piece, loaded with treacherous string crossings, double stops, and rapid-fire staccato. Morsches seemed to wrestle with the piece through its duration, at times getting the better of it with a rich tone in the middle and lower registers and an expressive cadenza in the second movement. Other times, however, her intonation faltered and her tone in the higher registers made for an uneven showing.
The stage and house of Orchestra Hall were packed Thursday evening as musicians and concert-goers found their seats—the size of both groups reflective of the overflowing Sixth Symphony of Gustav Mahler.
An hallucinatory narrative, Mahler’s Sixth unfolds over a tumultuous landscape of military marches, frolicking children, and pastoral memories, arriving in the dark abyss of inevitable doom. Indeed, the stage was filled with activity: an extra-large orchestra, clarinets playing bells-up, percussionists coming and going, and a giant hammer—it’s a serious production from the very beginning.
When the Tallis Scholars finished their first piece—Jan Sweelinck’s “Hodie Christus natus est”—the audience at Rockefeller Chapel Friday evening sat in uniform silence, perhaps stunned into a state of disbelief at the singing that had just filled the massive cathedral. Perhaps an unintentional silence, but still a welcome invitation to let the motet’s exuberance carry up to the vaulted ceiling.
The ten singers of the Tallis Scholars have a sound as rich as an 80-member choir and the austerity of a single monk in an abbey. Moving into John Taverner’s “Magnificat a 5,” the chanting tenors and resonant basses supported the male alto, Patrick Craig, whose bell-like voice rang out over languid waves of sound. The intricate layering of voices created a dense, overflowing prayer, always moving.
It’s a gift-giving season and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in on the act this weekend offering a collection of musical jewels in their red velvet Orchestra Hall box. On the program: Gustav Mahler’s Blumine, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 and Brahms’ Piano Quartet no. 1 in G Minor, op. 25 orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts with pianist Jeremy Denk. What is so unique about this line up is, to continue with the metaphor, these works are loosened from their traditional settings giving us the opportunity to enjoy brilliance shining from every direction possible and gain fresh perspective.
Following a popular and critically acclaimed performance cycle of string quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1972) last season, the Pacifica Quartet has teamed up with Cedille Records to launch The Soviet Experience—a series of recordings of the Shostakovich quartets and music by his contemporaries. The first volume is a dazzling achievement, setting the bar for the remaining albums in the cycle. The double-disc recording includes Shostakovich quartets 5–8 and the thirteenth and final quartet by Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950), which the Pacifica performed earlier this year at Mandel (no relation) Hall.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra kicked off its month-long celebration of Mahler on Thursday night with the perennial powerhouse, Jaap van Zweden, on the podium at Symphony Center.
The spacious opening of Mahler’s First Symphony is immediately reminiscent of the beginning of Beethoven’s Ninth as specks of melody emerge and recede. The orchestra moved tentatively at the outset, a feeling of hesitation hung in the air; the audience, too, hadn’t quite settled in after intermission. Eventually, a saccharine melody brought everyone together in an atmosphere of childlike discovery. Van Zweden kept the lid on the volume until the fanfare erupted in an extended coda of the first movement.
If Bach had written four dozen orchestral suites rather than four, would we know them as well or love them as much? Conductor Nicholas Kraemer wondered aloud from the Harris Theater stage Monday evening, an “If a tree falls in the woods” moment of music history. The question held the audience momentarily stunned before it realized it need not answer such hypothetical issues. Kraemer and the musicians of Music of the Baroque turned to the pages before them and responded to the rhetorical question with the second and third orchestral suites that bolstered the all-Bach program.
MOB has a masterful knack of maintaining transparency in its sound, an element that keeps the music sounding simultaneously ancient and alive. Mary Stolper’s nimble flute solos in the second suite were woven in and out of the effervescent orchestra, her ornamentation tasteful above a well-contoured cello-bass-harpsichord continuo.
A dapper Vienna Symphony Orchestra greeted a near capacity crowd at Harris Theater Monday evening with patent leather shoes shining and bearing the confidence of a Viennese orchestra performing the music of Viennese giants.
The Pacifica Quartet brims with personality. Each performance is a well-honed musical dialogue, its players captivating in a way rarely observed. The quartet was in fine form Sunday on its home stage at the University of Chicago’s Mandel (no relation to this reviewer) Hall.