Chicago Symphony in New York – 1

Mozart (attrib.)
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and orchestra, K297b
Symphony No.5 in B flat

Alex Klein (oboe), Larry Combs (clarinet), David McGill (bassoon) & Dale Clevenger (horn)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 3 November, 2005
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra began a three-concert residency at Carnegie Hall, the last under the directorship of Daniel Barenboim, who will end his 15-year tenure as music director of the CSO in June. When the orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall next season, Pierre Boulez, long-time principal guest conductor, will be at the helm.

Founded in 1891, the same year that Carnegie Hall officially opened, the CSO made its first appearance at the hall seven years later. Over the past three decades, the orchestra has made dozens of visits to Carnegie Hall and has enjoyed a particularly strong and reverent following in New York.

Thursday’s concert honored Mozart and Bruckner, two composers closely associated with Barenboim in the minds of CSO audiences. The program opened with the Sinfonia concertante for winds attributed to Mozart. The work is problematic for Mozart scholars. Since its discover early in the 20th-century, it has been hailed by many scholars as the long-lost Paris score commissioned by Jean Le Gros in 1778, even though that score called for a flute and oboe in the top voices instead of oboe and clarinet. Other scholars have questioned the authorship of the piece, which is not in Mozart’s hand, and which, apart from the style of the music itself, provides no evidence that it really is the work of Mozart. Arguments about authorship aside, the work is marvelously inventive.

This performance was earmarked by the appearance of Alex Klein, one of the most awarded oboists in the history of the instrument. Principal oboe of the CSO from 1995 through 2004, Klein was forced to resign from the post last year because of a neurological condition that affected his playing. This concert reunited him with his former first-chair wind colleagues in a dulcet performance in which the soloists smoothly matched one another in tone, intonation and phrasing. Klein, with his warm and firmly centered tone, showed no signs of impaired ability. His graceful shaping of line was seconded by Larry Combs’s stylish phrasing, David McGill’s lithe articulation, and Dale Clevenger’s mellow sonority. The peerless and joyful playing of the soloists and Barenboim’s excellent conducting resulted in a delightful and masterly performance.

Bruckner completed his Fifth Symphony in 1876 and made minor revisions to it over the next two years, but he never had a chance to hear it. The symphony was not performed until 1894, when Franz Schalk introduced it to the world in an extensively cut and altered version. In the original version, now universally performed, the symphony is an expansive work, a (circa) 75-minute marathon for orchestra and audience.

It is the only one of Bruckner’s symphonies to open with a slow introduction, and the music that follows is characterized by epic shifts in mood, alternating wildly between adagio and allegro sections, from introspective musings to vehement declamation. Its reach is vast, but Barenboim’s superbly controlled pacing found just the right balance between tension and tranquility. This was a high-powered performance marked by strong dramatic contrasts: both warmth and purposefulness in the outer movements, passion in the slow movement, energy in the scherzo, and taut delivery in the friction-charged finale. Barenboim led the CSO players in a seamless reading that unified the movements, binding them together into a consistent and coherent statement. The audience awarded Barenboim and the CSO players with a standing ovation.

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