Corigliano Festival ends in style, drawing large crowd to Millennium Park

Mon May 31, 2010 at 1:10 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Maria Bachmann performed Corigliano’s Chaconne from “The Red Violin” Sunday night at Millennium Park

Northwestern University’s festival devoted to the music of John Corigliano closed in grand style Sunday with a finale at Millennium Park that drew a large crowd on this holiday weekend.

The American composer’s music split the bill with Liszt, and Maria Bachmann was the solo protagonist in Corigliano’s Chaconne from The Red Violin.

His score for the 1998 film, which charted the course of the title instrument over the centuries, has yielded a variety of concert works, most recently a full-fledged 35-minute concerto.

The Chaconne is the most concise and, in many ways, the most successful. This 15-minute work draws various themes from the film, mixing percussive bite and yearning lyricism in Corigliano’s distinctive style, with ample opportunities for the soloist.

Maria Bachmann proved a most persuasive advocate, her sterling technique handling all the myriad technical landmines, and bringing refined expression to the lyrical passages. The accompaniment could have used more forward impetus at times, yet for the most part conductor Victor Yampolsky and the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra provided equally energized support.

Unlike Liszt’s piano concertos, the second of which was heard last week at Orchestra Hall, the Hungarian composer’s Faust Symphony is a more compelling work. Cast in three sections, each depicting one of the three main characters, the symphony has its moments, notably Faust’s heroic brassy theme and the lovely second movement, Gretchen, with its simple pure expression depicting the innocent girl ruined by the machinations of Faust and the devil, Mephistopheles. The work also has its problems, notably the longeurs of the Faust opening section, which sprawls for a half-hour.

It’s an ambitious work for a student ensemble to tackle yet the young Northwestern musicians showed themselves more than equal to the challenge. Yampolsky didn’t always sustain dramatic tension, especially in the wayward opening movement, which proved a bit of a trudge.

But the conductor largely obtained inspired playing, with notably powerful brass and agile strings, and principal violist Allyson Goodman showed fine sensitivity in her solos. In the Chorus Mysticus finale, the men of the Northwestern University Symphonic Choir provided robust vocalism and tenor soloist Grant Knox was attentive to the text though his wide vibrato needed to be more under control.

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