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Stravinsky, Borodin and Brahms at the CSO :  Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda, conductor, Leif Ove Andsnes, piano. SymphonyCenter, Chicago. 18. 2. 2011 (JLZ)

Stravinsky: Divertimento (Suite from The Fairy's Kiss)


Danses suisses


Pas de deux

Borodin: Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor)

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83

Allegro non troppo

Allegro appassionato


Allegretto grazioso

The almost full house for last Friday's Chicago Symphony concert was enthusiastic in welcoming guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda, who substituted for Riccardo Muti. In lieu of Varèse's Arcana, the last minute substitution of the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's opera Prince Igor fitted well with the Suite excerpted from Stravinsky's ballet The Fairy's Kiss. Noseda gave both pieces a lyric bent, a perspective that certainly brought out the lines in the Stravinsky and thus paid respect to the models from Tchaikovsky that form the basis of this piece. While this worked well in the opening of the Sinfonia in the Suite, the latter sections blurred into each other, without the differentiation between them found in the score. However, this approach supported the Danses suisses, which had a clearer interpretation that conveyed the dual vision of music by Tchaikovsky reworked by Stravinsky. This movement gave the audience a sense of the stylistic double vision in a rare performance of this ballet from the late 1920s.

With Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, the orchestra gave a solid reading of the score, with Eugene Izatov, principal oboe, giving the extended solo in the first part a rich, melancholic tone. For some reason though, Noseda tended to restrain the orchestra when the ensemble tended toward exuberance, and some tension was evident in the sometimes undifferentiated sounds in the middle of the Dances. It is difficult not to become caught up in Borodin's evocation of folk music, though, and the conclusion of the piece brought the audience to its feet, with some members of the audience whistling and cheering wildly.

The second half of the program consisted of Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, a work that was part of a memorable concert a few seasons ago with James Levine conducting and Daniel Barenboim as the soloist. For this concert the CSO was joined by Leif Ove Andsnes, who delivered a precise and detailed reading of this familiar piece. His cool approach to the solo part allowed him to give full reign and clarity to passages that some pianists blur, and he brought out the details that demonstrate both his command of this Concerto and mastery of Brahms' style in a solid reading of this work. The tempo of the first movement was slightly slower than sometimes taken, a factor that allowed Andsnes' part to emerge even more readily. The tempo was more characteristic for the second movement, with Andsnes' opening gesture met well by the Orchestra. In some passages, though, the orchestra seemed muted, with the string sound tending toward the upper and middle voices, enabling Andnes' solo part to demand attention with his expressive control. As much as the arpeggiated passages of the first movement were solid, so was Andsnes' sustained and elegant reading of the second movement. In the third movement, principal cello John Sharp gave the piece a distinctive sound in his solid and persuasive reading of the solo part that framed the structure. This prominent solo contributed an additional texture to this piece, and Sharp not only served well in combination with the orchestra, but also offered additional contrast to the solo piano. With the fourth movement, Andsnes brought the Concerto to a conclusion by allowing just a few seconds before the opening of the Finale. He differentiated between the sections of the Rondo with subtle variations in tempo that contributed to the interpretation of the movement. The solid and enthusiastic playing served the piece well, and gave the audience a fine sense of the stylish and persuasive abilities of the soloist, who will return to Symphony Center in the Spring to give a solo recital.

Jim Zychowicz


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