Have you been to a concert somewhere in the world recently? Share your thoughts with us about the performance, the more details the better!

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Post by stickles » Wed Sep 28, 2011 3:58 pm

Last night was my first Chicago Symphony concert of the season led by music director Riccardo Muti. As I walked into the building, there were murmurs around about how none of the concerts for the season have been sold out. There were some worried faces around, no doubt associated with the slow ticket sales. The concert itself was well attended, with only few rows of seats at the very back of the gallery (topmost tier) unfilled. My seat was at front of gallery right, but I moved to the last row at intermission for acoustic reasons which I shall relate at the end.

First on the program was a suite from the movie The Leopard composed by Nino Rota. While lush orchestrated, and dynamically scored, the suite lacked contrast and hence a sense of structure. No matter how luxuriously played, too much of anything is never a good thing. For me this was an impatient half hour.

Mathieu Dufour, the principal flute, followed with a crystalline rendition of Jacques Ibert’s flute concerto. Dufour has long been a favorite player of mine at the CSO. His pure silvery tone, accompanied by an unfailing sense of the lyrical line, was both assertive and seductive. The brilliantly played rondo brought everyone to their feet. Like everyone else I talked to, I am so very glad that Dufour decided to remain in Chicago instead of following The Dude (Dudamel) out west.

After the intermission was the old warhorse Tchaikovsky 5 in what was possibly the finest performance I have ever heard live or on record. Muti’s approach to this chestnut was expansive, from plaintive to driven and anywhere between the dynamic extremes, the music danced and swayed, coiled and exploded like nothing I have ever heard before. Much textural richness was brought out by the careful balance and phrasing in the low strings and winds; amazing detail and clarity everywhere. Every section leader excelled at their solos. The venerable Dale Clevenger, now 71, battling against the horde of local critics who are calling for his retirement, delivered a superb horn solo in the 2nd movement. In the past 5 years, I have seen the good Dale and the bad Dale, and last night was the best he has ever done in recent years. The newly installed first clarinet Stephen Williamson, previously at the MET, exhibited a silk smooth and almost buttery tone. While it may not be to everyone’s liking, it is still an auspicious start for his tenure. Next to him, David McGill’s bassoon is a wonder. There is a certain sweet woodiness in his upper register that just sings like none other. Since McGill rarely travels with the orchestra on tour outside the windy city, his special brand of music making remains a treat for Chicago concert goers only. Muti’s presence on the podium was a pleasure to watch as well. At times, he was animated and danced around; while other times so relaxed and seemed content just let the players play all by themselves. However there was never a doubt that he was the man in charge, and knew exactly what he and what everyone else is doing.

Next week is the Liszt bicentennial program, and the Faust Symphony is on tap. I can hardly wait.

Now a note on the strange acoustics of the Orchestral Hall in its current configuration: a fellow concertgoer who was seated six rows in front of me during the Tchaikovsky shook his head vehemently after the concert and complained about Clevenger’s tone during the 2nd movement solo. I was shocked at what he described as thin, threadbare, and of unconscionably poor quality (although he did admit that Dale hit all the notes correctly), while he sounded quite rich and full to my ears despite having to switch to a triple horn in recent seasons. Can 6 rows of difference in the top balcony make such a big difference acoustically? Maybe so. Last spring I attended 3 Otello performances of Otello sitting in three different spots on different levels, and the acoustics did vary significantly. Still the back few rows of the gallery on the left/left center remain my favorable section to hear the CSO.

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