Prieto, CSO deliver vital and energetic performances of Latin works
Chicago Symphony Orchestra patrons were treated Thursday night to first-class performances of indigenously inspired scores by three masters of orchestral writing. The concert at Symphony Center showcased the leadership of Mexican-born Carlos Miguel Prieto, who has much of this music in his genes and showed the ability to draw idiomatic performances out of the stylistically flexible CSO. The evening featured as soloist the equally stellar French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in a performance of Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5, called (though not by the composer) the “Egyptian.”
From the spacious opening onward Thibaudet channels his teacher Aldo Ciccolini’s light touch and pearly tones; big octaves, cleanly executed arpeggios and delicate shading characterize the concerto’s first movement, which came to a quiet and precisely observed conclusion.
The second movement Andante contains the exotic thematic material that gives the concerto its name. Early on a brief eerie harmonic effect in the piano contributes to the strange, glinting atmospherics. At this point the piano goes into Orientalist modes and themes and the music lurches through various styles including a Chinese-flavored segment and a rousing flamenco evocative of Moorish Spain.
Miguel Prieto was an unobtrusive accompanist who let the piano have the spotlight while keeping the whole mix under firm control.
The highlight of this performance was the finale Molto Allegro, a piece of good-humored splashy capriciousness that almost never lets up in its full-on dynamic energy. Interludes of refreshingly fluid melody appear like mirages in a broad sweep forward towards the inevitable bravura finale. Thibaudet clearly loves this piece and remains its premier interpreter.
The bulk of the program was made up of music from Latin America with two suites taken from much longer pieces intended for other media.
Alberto Ginastera was represented by Panambi, his Opus 1a, dating from 1937. This richly evocative score, which consists of four movements from his much longer ballet of the same name, sounds like the Debussy of La Mer or the Stravinsky of Firebird on first hearing. Yet the score soon asserts an individuality as well with the composer’s Argentinian heritage manifest in its flavorful indigenous instrumental touches.
The suite was cannily put together to stir up an audience, with the hyperpercussive “Danza de los guerreros” placed last for maximum effect. The entire suite is well worth hearing and it would be a service as well as a delight for the CSO and Prieto to record it complete. Certainly one would never hear a better performance of this gorgeous music.
La noche de los mayas, a suite from Silvestre Revueltas’s soundtrack for an underrated 1939 Mexican film, is another masterwork from another medium. Again the suite is cleverly constructed with a huge, almost independent, percussion showcase (featuring an array of modern replicas of pre-Hispanic instruments from the conductor’s own collection) dominating the finale.
Here too, a complete recording of all the music as actually written by Revueltas for the film would be a major contribution. This is the pinnacle of Revueltas’ compositional art and the piece was performed at the highest level under the idiomatic and controlled hand of Miguel Prieto, a conductor who achieved massive sonorities with a minimum of flashiness.
A rare subscription program encore was offered to appease the wildly enthusiastic audience with a section from Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon suite, which never sounded grander than in this context, a romantic showstopper in its own right, lushly performed by the chameleonic CSO.
The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. cso.org; 312-204-3000.
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