Chicago Philharmonic tees up an enjoyable game of musical pairs
The Chicago Philharmonic under music director Scott Speck marked their debut appearance Sunday afternoon at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts with a program of mostly lighter classical works. The theme was “Daring Duos” and the highlight of the concert was a brisk run-through of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony while Anthony Plog’s Double Concerto for Two Trumpets made an attractive vehicle in a generally modern style.
Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 opened the program and a full cohort of Philharmonic players sounded well in the venue’s clean acoustic. Speck handled the work’s dynamic contrasts appropriately although the pace lagged somewhat in the slower segments. The two offstage trumpet calls were played from the upper balconies and jarringly loud to audience members siting nearby. The performance overall lacked the dramatic atmospherics needed for this redaction of the opera Fidelio.
Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessd Spirits” from Orfeo and Euridice was apparently chosen for its spotlighting of the two flutes who were placed front and center for this performance. The fine artists, John Thorne and Janice MacDonald, were notable in the solo section.
Preparing the way for Plog’s work and closing the first half of the program, the Vivaldi Two-Trumpet Concerto, his only work in this format, was given a straightforward reading by William Denton and Robert Sullivan. Its three movements flowed past without incident.
After a brief introduction by the composer, the same soloists opened the second half with the Plog Double Concerto and proved to be adept performers of this enjoyable piece. Written in 2001 with the same orchestration as the Vivaldi, adding percussion and celesta, the work could date from any time in the last century. It offers complex but tonal scoring and off-kilter melodies and plenty of opportunities for the soloists to interact impressively. This could be a nice repertoire piece for a rare coupling of instruments accompanied by small orchestra.
The Mendelssohn “Italian” Symphony was the highlight of the afternoon. The first movement was taken briskly, with clean strings and the melodies emerging brightly. The second movement with its slower pace and walking rhythm in the lower strings was fully under the conductor’s control and came to a quiet end without incident.
The third movement, called a song without words by Speck, was more than that with a tonal richness and deceptively simple structure which came to another understated conclusion.
In the final movement the orchestra came into its own with a dynamic that rarely let up interwoven with some of Mendelssohn’s lighter touches and a snappy ending that elicited enthusiastic applause by the substantial audience.
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