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October 7, 2012 5:01 pm
The season has begun rather bumpily for the Chicago Symphony. The official opening programme on home turf in Illinois on September 22 was cancelled at an hour’s notice because of a labour dispute. Understandably, the locked-out patrons were not happy. The strike was settled quickly, however, and, contrary to fears, the orchestra showed up for this concert to open the Carnegie Hall season in New York on Wednesday.
Riccardo Muti, whose aesthetic preferences are sometimes surprising, chose to inaugurate the vaunted Manhattan visit with the meretricious claptrap of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. So much for intellectual and/or emotional challenge.
One hoped for classier options at the second concert, Thursday night. No such luck. For all his brilliance and savoir faire, the maestro offered relative conundrums. Reprising most of a concert first essayed in Chicago last February, he juxtaposed the trendy novelty of Mason Bates’s semi-electronic Alternative Energy with the over-ripe romanticism of César Franck’s justly neglected Symphony in D-minor. One man’s trial by ennui, of course, can be another’s flight of inspiration.
Fortunately, one didn’t have to love the music on this occasion to admire the music-making. The great Chicago Symphony can make even the trite sound bright. And it did.
The would-be festivities back in February began with the propulsive chugs of Honegger’s Pacific 231. That piece was supplanted here with a less forbidding curtain-raiser, the overture to Wagner’s Fliegende Holländer. Muti & Co made it very, very stormy.
Bates, the official composer in residence, knows how to wield a mighty instrumental apparatus, appreciates the value of brassy-thumpy sound effects and creates neat, complex patterns involving rambling rumbles and incidental rattles. The only unconventional instrument listed in his official scoring, not incidentally, is something called “laptop”. Although fancy convolutions abound, the dauntlessly energetic exercise – essentially jaunty, noisy and glib – wears out its welcome early in its 28-minute span.
Franck’s ponderous and portentous symphony ended the evening in a blaze of bathos. Still, it earned the virtuosic performers a deserved ovation.
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