Chicago Symphony/Boulez in New York – 1 [Janáĉek, Szymanowski & Stravinsky]

Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35
Pulcinella – Ballet in One Act with Song

Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)

Roxana Constantinescu (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor) & Kyle Ketelson (bass-baritone)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Pierre Boulez

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 9 March, 2009
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Until Riccardo Muti takes over as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony in the 2010/11 season, the Orchestra is continuing to visit New York twice a year under the leadership of its Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink and Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez.

Pierre Boulez Boulez opened the first of two New York concerts with Leos Janáĉek’s Sinfonietta, its well-known fanfare played by 9, and in the last movement 12, trumpeters standing across the back of the stage. In addition to the orchestra’s own players, these soloists included musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Pittsburgh, Houston and National Symphony Orchestras, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and a Broadway lead trumpet. All of them had spent time either performing or studying in Chicago, and surely must be influenced in one way or another by the orchestra’s famed former principal, Adolph ‘Bud’ Herseth. They acquitted themselves brilliantly and, joined by colleagues in the lower brass section, framed the intermediate movements of the piece with a virtuoso display.

Last year Boulez allegedly concluded conducting opera with Janáĉek’s “From the House of the Dead”. Clearly he has a thorough grasp of the composer’s idiom, never losing track of a unifying structure in each movement. He brought out the many different moods of and within the various sections. One of the most beautiful moments came at the beginning of the Moderato, where he drew a glowing sound from the strings; it ended with a brilliant solo by flutist Mathieu Dufur.

Frank Peter ZimmermannFrank Peter Zimmermann’s repertoire includes lesser-known and 20th-century works, and he is a significant champion of this Szymanowski concerto. From the very first note it was obvious that he has great affinity for it, and is able to coax the ideal sound for the high tessitura from his 1711 Stradivarius, which once belonged to Fritz Kreisler. Never piercing, but always beguiling, sweet and round, it was the perfect counterpart to the bird-sounds of the orchestra. Throughout the one-movement work Zimmermann weaved himself into the texture of this lush piece and yet remained the focus of it, with impeccable intonation and style. Boulez and the CSO provided a true collaboration to present this concerto as a Romantic tone poem.

Although it is not a true representation, containing the sections most like Stravinsky, the Suite from Pulcinella is much more familiar than the whole ballet, which is based on 18th-century models. Surprising then that Pierre Boulez, so identified with 20th-century and the very latest music, seemed to be at his most engaged and animated, delivering a performance of the complete score that was utterly delightful in all of its different aspects – elegant, full of rhythmic bounce, lively, lyrical, and transparent. The CSO (Stravinsky requires 33 musicians) proved to be a top-notch chamber group with sensitive playing from ripieno strings, the concertino string quintet, and the wind soloists, foremost among them oboist Eugene Izotov, bassoonist David McGill, and horn-player Dale Clevenger.

The trio of young vocal soloists further added to the success. Although a soprano is specified, Rumanian mezzo-soprano Roxana Constantinescu’s sweet round tone never felt too heavy and blended very well with tenor Nicholas Phan in the duet. In his own solos he impressed with clear and focused high notes, never forced, and a very stylish delivery overall. Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson was well-matched for the trios, and in his aria displayed just the right combination of lightness and agility while still producing a rich and warm sound

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