Danzmayr, Illinois Philharmonic soar with Sibelius
The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra has seen a bit of upheaval in the summer off season. Executive director Andrew Bradford departed for the Colorado Music Festival in June, and the south suburban ensemble’s new chief is Agnieszka (“Eska”) Laskus, formerly of the Grant Park Music Festival.
Happily, the gifted David Danzmayr is still in charge of musical matters, as shown in commanding fashion at the Illinois Philharmonic’s concert Friday night in Frankfort.
Danzmayr is a greatly gifted conductor and has lifted the fortunes of the IPO since taking the reins two seasons ago. His consistent advocacy of American composers, including a homegrown work on every program, should be emulated widely.
Still, the core personnel has changed little since he took over and there’s only so much that can be done without some key upgrades. There are many gifted musicians in the IPO, but also several mediocrities and a couple that should be doing roadwork.
In his introductory remarks at Lincoln-Way Performing Arts Center, Danzmayr explained that he had to miss some of the rehearsals for this program due to illness, and he thanked Victor Yampolsky for taking the reins until he was back on his feet.
Danzmayr is such a charismatic and dynamic podium presence he seems to will the IPO musicians to the very limits of their capabilities–and even beyond. Such was clear in the rich and often electrifying performance of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1.
Even with the passing horn bloopers, ragged entrances, and tonal rawness, Danzmayr pushed the players to a taut, riveting performance of Sibelius’s epic symphony. One may hear more polished performances but rarely encounter one with such dramatic grip and thrilling cumulative impact.
Trevor O’Riordan’s spacious, atmospheric clarinet solo launched the performance in style, and Daznymayr’s concentrated direction charted the ebb and flow with driving yet flexible momentum. The Andante captured the craggy Northern lyricism with the conductor ensuring fine balances, the woodwind skirls audible under the big orchestral tuttis.
The pounding Schzero was aptly vigorous and the performance culminated in a terrific account of the finale. The central big tune–as indelible as anything by Tchaikovsky—really took flight, played by the IPO strings with rich tone. The violins played with striking intensity in the dramatic moments, yet Danzmayr also conveyed the strangeness and mystery of this work as with the coda’s descent and two quiet pizzicato chords.
The first half displayed Danzmayr’s innovative approach to programming.
One rarely gets the opportunity to hear German lieder in symphonic concerts, so kudos to Danzmayr for some offbeat programming of Schubert and Strauss songs.
Max Reger’s arrangements of Schubert are done with more skill and imagination than one might expect, even if they make performing this amped-up lieder a challenge for lighter voices.
The towering bass-baritone David Govertsen has an attractive and rich bass-baritone, and he brought a natural ease to Schubert’s Standchen. In Erlkonig, however, his lack of differentiation for the voices of the child, father and creepy title phantom kept the drama at arm’s length. Govertsen’s generalized take on Strauss’s Allerseelen was similarly low-voltage.
Kathrin Danzmayr, wife of the conductor, is clearly at home in the language and idiom of Schubert. The German soprano showed a graceful empathy in Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade and Du bist die Ruh though her light soprano sounded stretched in the latter’s high tessitura.
Strauss’s Morgen was launched with a lovely, shimmering violin solo by concertmaster Elizabeth Huffman, though here Danzmayr’s singing was distinctly under pitch. An apparently off-the-cuff decision to dispense with the final duet of Strauss’s Zueignung seemed to catch the orchestra by surprise; after the conductor and soloists had left the stage, the musicians stayed seated for several awkward moments unsure if the first half was over.
The overture to Gordon Getty’s opera Plump Jack made a lively curtain raiser. Getty’s music is tuneful and individual and deserves to be more widely heard. The overture is a bit episodic yet paints the bibulous knight Falstaff with fine brush strokes, by turns galumphing and energetic. A loopy horn and early trumpet entrance apart, the IPO offered a vital and spirited performance with Danzmayr bringing out the quirky humor of this engaging music.
The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra’s next concert is a holiday pops program of “Music from the Movies” December 20. ipomusic.org.
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