Muti returns to CSO with Uchida playing Beethoven and a premiere by Adams (not that one)
Riccardo Muti returned this week to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a varied program that included the world premiere of Samuel Adams’ many words of love Thursday night.
Adams is currently in the middle year of his three-season term as Chicago Symphony co-composer in residence, and this CSO commission is his first work to be performed by the orchestra.
Spanning 20 minutes, many words of love was inspired by Wilhelm Müller’s poem, “Der Lindenbaum,” famously set by Schubert in his tragic song cycle Winterreise. Thematically, Adams says he was attracted to the contradiction of the heartfelt words of love being carved into a tree by the ill-fated protagonist as well as a more 21st-century environmental attitude about the “violent and tender” qualities of the act. That contrast is likewise reflected in the tension between his resources, exploring the intersection of natural acoustical music and “digitally produced artificial resonance.”
A loud dissonant chord opens the three-section work and for the ensuing 20 minutes the music proceeds in heaving waves. There are some intriguing sonorities—the shimmering sound of “nipple gongs” amid the vast percussion battery and a stentorian brass fanfare, which pealing forth with daunting power.
But ultimately Adams’ work seemed lumbering, gestural and rather empty. The scoring is far too heavy and needlessly complicated, with dubious instrumental complexities for the players, most of which barely registered in live performance.
At 31, Adams has barely a dozen works to his name–and very few for orchestra. As in previous works, one gets the sense of a young composer who has yet to find his compositional voice and the means to realize it effectively in both the working out and the orchestration. Muti led the orchestra in a forceful and dedicated performance, clarifying Adams’ swirling textures as much as possible.
Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 followed and, coming immediately after Adams’ work, this is one time when no one is going to complain about Schumann’s thick orchestration.
The Fourth, amazingly, has not been performed by the CSO in 14 years, which is hard to believe for such cornerstone repertory. Schumann’s quirky, restless Romanticism fits the CSO’s mercurial maestro well, and Muti led a vital and full-bodied performance. Robert Chen’s gracious violin solos highlighted the Romanza, and the Scherzo went with charged impetus, the trio’s descending phrases gently contrasted. Characteristically, Muti made the transition into the finale a high point, with careful control of dynamics and anticipation creating tension before the burst of sun-like brightness in the main theme.
Thursday marked another installment in this season’s series of the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Mitsuko Uchida as soloist in the Concerto No. 3 in C minor.
Muti has been casting against type in this series with Yefim Bronfman in the lightly scored Fourth Concerto and now Uchida in the stormy, minor-key Third.
Uchida is beloved locally for her long-running Mozart series with the CSO, conducting concertos from the keyboard. Yet, for the most part, she proved just as convincing in Beethoven’s more dramatic work. Her playing was fluent and polished if perhaps more Classical in style then one usually hears in this Romantic music. Despite a litany of loud, unmuffled coughs from Philistines in the audience, her solo phrasing in the Adagio was rapt and otherworldly, and she brought similarly spacious, inward expression to the cadenzas. Others may serve up more muscle in the finale but Uchida’s nimble touch and witty dynamic marking provided its own rewards.
A healthy creative tension surfaced intermittently between Uchida’s lingering, fantasia style and Muti’s bold tuttis and forward momentum. But for the most part they proved simpatico partners, with the CSO’s music director supplying well-groomed, attentive accompaniment.
Muti opened the evening with the Overture to Rossini’s opera La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder). The CSO’s music director is without peer in his compatriot’s curtain raisers and Muti led a fleet, witty performance with whirling strings and chattering woodwinds that was wholly delightful.
The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday at Edman Memorial Chapel in Wheaton, and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Orchestra Hall. cso.org; 312-294-3000.
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