Danzmayr, Illinois Philharmonic serve up a worthy seafaring program
The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra offers a choice perspective of the opportunities and challenges for a regional symphonic ensemble. While most suburban orchestras are concentrated in the northern and western outlying areas, the Illinois Philharmonic is the only significant entity bringing classical music to audiences in the far southern suburbs.
Currently in his debut season as music director, David Danzmayr is clearly intent on raising the 35-year-old Philharmonic to the next level, and Saturday night’s varied program at Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center in Frankfort showed the young Austrian already has plenty of fine material to work with.
The program of largely sea-inspired, mostly English music was certainly an offbeat one, and offered a worthy test drive for an orchestra that provided solid and often impressive playing, building on the strong showing at the IPO’s season opener in November.
The Illinois Philharmonic possesses many fine qualities as well as some of the debits of a regional ensemble—an energetic, mostly youthful string section, some superb woodwinds—oboe and clarinet especially—and, on the other side, rough, highly variable horns.
What makes the Philharmonic noteworthy these days is the podium leadership of Danzmayr, 32, who is clearly a young conductor on the rise, displaying assured handling of repertoire from Baroque to the 20th century.
La Mer, the evening’s main work, was particularly noteworthy. While the Philharmonic can’t quite produce the requisite tonal gleam for this translucent music, Danzmayr elicited responsive and often quite lovely playing in Debussy’s sonic seascape. The conductor judged the ebb and flow of this evocative music with great skill and drew finely balanced textures—the blowsy horns apart—with a vibrant climax in the first movement. The second section, “Play of the Waves,” was especially well done, and Danzmayr brought edgy turbulence to the storm-tossed finale with superb vigor and impact.
Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams preceded the Debussy with concertmaster Hal Grossman as soloist in The Lark Ascending. This gentle avian-inspired tone poem for violin and orchestra virtually defines the English pastoral school of music (or the “cow looking over a fence” school to detractors).
Grossman played with enviable purity of tone—a couple fleeting lapses apart—and conveyed the atmosphere with refined feeling and extremely subtle dynamic marking. His long fade to silence was magical and beautifully assayed. Danzmayr and the orchestra backed their colleague with comparably nuanced and eloquent support.
Danzmayr showed himself a stylish Baroque hand in the Suite No. 2 from Handel’s Water Music, drawing lightly articulated playing from the reduced forces with especially nimble strings and trumpets. After a couple jarring bloopers, the horns seemed to get in gear with their colleagues, and performed alertly as well.
The Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, which led off the evening, proved a more mixed bag. The opening of the “Dawn” section was too present and lacking atmosphere. The other three act preludes went better, with “Moonlight” in particular conveying the dark foreboding that anticipates Grimes’ tragic end.
The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra’s next program takes place February 16 and 17, with David Danzmayr leading the ensemble in Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 (“Oxford”), Lee Actor’s Divertimento for Small Orchestra and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Ilya Kaler as soloist. ipomusic.org.
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