Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti at Carnegie Hall (1) – Scherzo fantastique & Four Sea Interludes, the New York premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto, and Clémentine Margaine sings Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer

Scherzo fantastique, Op.3
Jennifer Higdon
Low Brass Concerto [New York premiere]
Poème de l’amour et de la mer [sung in French]
Peter Grimes, Op.33 – Four Sea Interludes, Op.33a

Jay Friedman & Michael Mulcahy (trombones), Charles Vernon (bass trombone) & Gene Pokorny (tuba)

Clémentine Margaine (mezzo-soprano)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti

Reviewed by: Thomas Phillips

Reviewed: 9 February, 2018
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Riccardo Muti at Carnegie Hall perform Jennifer Higdon's Low Brass ConcertoPhotograph: Todd RosenbergThe Chicago Symphony Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall for a pair of programs. This, the first, boasted an impressive range, but Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique is a forgettable student piece. I appreciate the interest in presenting the work that launched his collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev, a decent work by a becoming-great composer, but it is derivative, immature and rather tedious.

Jennifer Higdon’s new Low Brass Concerto features the famed backbone of the CSO. It’s music firmly seated in her distinctive tonal idiom that doesn’t fail to surprise and intrigue, and made a strong impression. The Concerto is in one movement and broadly alternates fast and slow sections. It features each member of the brass quartet, but special moments are given to Gene Pokorny, making easy work of virtuosic scales, and Jay Friedman, who played with great delicacy.

Every time I hear something by Ernest Chausson I am reminded how tragic his early passing was. Poème de l’amour et de la mer presages much of what Poulenc would channel into his opera Dialogues des Carmelites. To her credit Clémentine Margaine performed the outer movements as art songs (the middle one is an orchestral interlude, here with intimate contributions from bassoon and cello), the singer particularly sensitive to the integration of vocal and woodwind lines, leaning into the sound of the oboe and clarinet.

The ‘Sea Interludes’ from Peter Grimes brought to bear a previously unheard level of sophistication and specificity from the orchestra – I do not mean to impugn anything from earlier in the evening – but Riccardo Muti, an opera-conductor’s opera conductor, sprang to life, unpretentiously wringing every bit of nuance and character from the music. The notoriously difficult ensemble of ‘Dawn’ was exemplary, and the brass demonstrated a peerless blend in ‘Sunday Morning’. The contrast between the quietude of ‘Moonlight’ and the bare-chested gnashing of ‘Storm’ was gripping.

Multi introduced an encore, Giuseppe Martucci’s Notturno, music of great subtlety.

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