Down-sized Philharmonic closes season with Mozart, will return to full strength in the fall

Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 7:31 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Chamber music of Mozart and Chausson was performed by the Chicago Philharmonic in its final season program Sunday in Evanston.

Amid all the depressing news of the past year’s economic impact on arts organizations, one of the most dismaying was that concerning the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra. Due to a lack of funds and a growing deficit, the orchestra was forced to down-size two of its events to chamber concerts, the last of which was presented Sunday evening at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston.

While it’s more likely the result of prudent management and not necessarily a broader economic indicator, it’s nice to be able to report some upbeat economic cultural news for a change. Artistic coordinator James Berkenstock said Sunday that this season’s retrenchment has helped to aright the Philharmonic’s financial ship, and that the $60,000 deficit (on an estimated $800,000 annual budget) has been largely erased. The Philharmonic will be back up to full seventy-player strength for three of its four concerts in its 20th anniversary season starting in October.

That would have been inspirational news all by itself. But the distinguished performances by the orchestra’s musicians in works of Mozart and Chausson on Sunday closed a difficult season on a high note, and likely left few audience members feeling short-changed.

The three works share a stylistic leitmotif of sorts, with one instrumentalist cast as primus inter pares in each work. With her pure tone and fluent musicianship, Jean Berkenstock was a graceful quasi-soloist in Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, K. 285. The slight astringent edge to the strings provided an apt period feel, and all musicians displayed closely knit ensemble with Berkenstock floating an elegant line in the Adagio. The Rondo finale was delightful, the players bringing out the music’s gracious wit energetically while keeping an essential refinement.

The tricky balancing act in Mozart’s Horn Quintet was deftly negotiated by the Philharmonic members as well. Hornist Jonathan Boen and first violinist David Perry brought a conversational quality to their exchanges, with Boen’s expressive playing in the Andante, also matched by his colleague. The  exuberant concluding Allegro made one wonder anew at Mozart’s  inexhaustible imagination, the music thrown off by all with jaunty swagger.

Ernest Chausson

Ernest Chausson’s Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet closed the program. A blend of Baroque chamber concerto with French elegance and roiling drama, the sextet is an extraordinarily brilliant and wide-ranging work.

 David Perry was a superb solo protagonist,   clearly in synch with the score’s rhapsodic passion yet holding the elegance and intensity in a dexterous balance. The Philharmonic concertmaster brought a forceful bravura to the outer movements and a lilting touch to the Sicillienne.

 The slow movement was finest of all, Perry’s calibrated vibrato and finely judged ebb and flow conveying the sense of stoic melancholy. There was fitful loss of focus in the quartet accompaniment, but for the most part Perry’s colleagues supported him attentively with William Koehler providing polished, first-class keyboard playing.

 The Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra opens its 2009-2010 season October 18 with conductor Joel Smirnoff leading a “Three Concertmasters” program featuring violinists David Taylor, Robert Hanford and David Perry.  On November 15, a chamber program will offer Dohnanyi’s Sextet and Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor. Larry Rachleff will return March 14, 2010, to lead the orchestra in Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Tchakovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with soloist Vladimir Ovchinnikov. The season will conclude May 2 with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 featuring soloists from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Center for Young Artists, and the North Shore Choral Society. 847-866-6888;

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