Chicago Symphony/Boulez in New York – 1 [Mitsuko Uchida]

Osiris [New York premiere]
Piano Concerto No.3
Images pour orchestre

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Pierre Boulez

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 25 February, 2008
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Pierre BoulezIn the program-book Matthias Pintscher described his one-movement Osiris (2007) as having been inspired by the Egyptian myth. “I was particularly moved by the story of Isis, Osiris’s loving sister and consort. After her husband is crushed by his furious brother, through the power of her love she is able to reassemble him and revive the reconstructed body through the broad pulsating of her wings. Isis had hunted out the separate, dispersed parts of her consort in a despairing, enduring search along the banks of the Nile. Out of this comes a formal structure for me, consisting of various stages of fragmentation and reanimation: the initial condition of unity, the disintegration into individual parts and their reconstruction and metamorphosis – a genuine musical process.”

Employing a large orchestra, this quasi tone poem opens quietly, strings with percussion accents, and adding the brass soon builds to a climax. The following depictions of “disintegration” are taken on by various smaller groupings of the orchestra, featuring prominent solos by muted trumpet and an ominous-sounding contrabass clarinet. Eventually the music gets more emphatic and builds up to another, huge climax with much percussion, before the piece fades away with a last trumpet solo.

The structure of Osiris thus bears out the composer’s intentions; however, the content was less than satisfying – lots of fast notes, short motifs and solos effectively going nowhere; there neither was enough coloristic or textural interest to keep one engaged for the 22-minute duration.

Pierre Boulez with Mitsuko Uchida. ©Steve J. ShermanBy contrast, Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto seemed to traverse several worlds within approximately the same time span. Composed when he was near death, Bartók intended to leave his wife Ditta a concerto and, therefore, the writing for piano is unusually delicate and fits Mitsuko Uchida perfectly. Mostly known as an interpreter of the Classical repertoire, she brought great clarity and exquisite detail to the solo part, interacting vividly with the orchestra. Hers is not the most powerful sound, but even in the big moments of the finale everything was in proportion, Boulez perfectly balancing the orchestra to the soloist.

The concert concluded with Debussy’s Images, in Boulez’s own sequence of ‘Rondes de printemps’, ‘Gigues’, and ‘Ibéria’. It takes a virtuoso orchestra to do justice to these pieces, and the Chicago Symphony more than measured up. Renowned for its power, it showed that it could also play with Gallic transparency and sensibility, a credit as much to the musicians’ abilities as to Boulez’s direction. While the CSO is searching for a Music Director after Daniel Barenboim’s departure, it is extremely fortunate to have Boulez as one of its major guiding forces during the interim.

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