Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti at Carnegie Hall (2) – Verdi & Brahms – and the New York premiere of Samuel Adams’s many words of love

I vespri siciliani – Overture
Samuel Adams
many words of love [New York premiere]
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti

Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley

Reviewed: 10 February, 2018
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Riccardo Muti at Carnegie HallPhotograph: Todd RosenbergSamuel Adams (born 1985 in San Francisco) has received much attention since he was appointed co-composer-in-residence (with Elizabeth Ogonek) to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His twenty-minute many words of love was inspired by Schubert’s ‘Der Lindenbaum’ from Winterreise. The poem by Wilhelm Müller describes the wanderer who carves “many words of love” on a linden tree. Adams focuses on sound-design, which he defines as “manipulating and altering sound with electronic equipment in real time.” By applying an amalgam of acoustical and digital techniques, Adams creates various transformations of his thematic material. This work is structured in tripartite form, which “starts with an incredibly busy and dense two minutes of music that kind of disintegrates and then rebuilds in the third part … having, in the middle, arrived at total silence” [Adams]. Soundscapes permeate the piece, subtly enhanced by an expanded percussion section. Sustained tones slowly weave their way through a hushed atmosphere. Occasionally, strings become more assertive and a trumpet rises above them, generating some dissonant chords that quickly fade. The pervasive hushed atmosphere became wearing.

The concert began with a fine performance of the Overture to The Sicilian Vespers. The CSO played superbly, strings were resilient (the cello passage toward the close of the first section was sublime), woodwinds bright and brass resonant. Following intermission, Brahms’s Second Symphony in which Riccardo Muti’s approach to this treasured masterwork was essentially traditional, emphasizing smooth, sonorous sound, a liquid legato and strong but not overpowering tuttis. Muti paced the music so that it flowed naturally and unfolded with ease, exquisitely phrased. A meditative aura enveloped the soft passages, while more dramatic moments had impressive impact. Muti’s Apollonian treatment of the Symphony made for something outstanding, played with noble reserve and dignity. Muti offered an encore, a soothing account of the B-minor ‘Entr’acte’ from Schubert’s incidental music for Rosamunde, an endearing lollipop now rarely heard in the concert hall.

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