I was at last night’s early bird performance of the Chicago Symphony -- these “Afterwork Masterworks” concerts start at 6:30 (instead of 8:00), and generally just include the red meat of the week’s program, with no intermission, which means they let out by 8:00. I love the early start time, and in this case, I didn’t really miss the works that were deleted from the full program they’ll be doing for the remaining nights -- Faure’s Pelleas suite and Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.
What they did perform were certainly warhorses, Bruch’s 1st violin concerto with Joshua Bell and Saint-Saens’ organ symphony (Henry McDowell on organ). Roberto Abbado was supposed to conduct but cancelled because of post-surgery (Achilles tendon) problems and was replaced by Yan Pascal Tortelier. (The program seemed destined to be conducted by musical bloodlines, Roberto’s uncle being conductor Claudio and Yan Pascal’s dad being the late cellist Paul.)
I don't know, maybe being away from the orchestra since the spring had something to do with it, but I don't think so -- I was absolutely bowled over. I thought Bell was great, and having just heard the Bruch not long ago with Zukerman and Dudamel, it underlined just how disappointed I’ve become with Zukerman, and what a profoundly involving musician Bell is at his best.
But the orchestra--good lord, what an ensemble, and that's what it really was last night. Not just powerful but gorgeous, and not just in the Saint-Saens (aka these days the soundtrack to Babe), where you expect it, but the Bruch, too. The precision, the sense of unity and blend, the flexibility, it was simply stunning. Tortelier seemed like a fine gent, too. I couldn’t help but wonder if Muti’s arrival hasn’t injected something into the orchestra. Yes, these were works they’ve played too many times, but that doesn’t necessarily result in inspired readings -- often just the opposite. But last night, anyway, they seemed absolutely at the top of their game.
I look forward to this season.
October 8, 2009