Grant Park Orchestra serves up enjoyable night of lightish showpieces

Thu Jul 29, 2010 at 12:30 pm

By Gerald Fisher

“The Green Fairy” by Myrea Pettit.

Wednesday’s Grant Park Orchestra concert delivered a pair of barnburners by Liszt and Tchaikovsky along with a cool splash of Stravinskian proto-Neoclassicism in a light yet nicely balanced program under Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu.

The Stravinsky was the relative novelty. The 1928 ballet The Fairy’s Kiss was a milestone for the protean composer: his first ballet score not written for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes but instead for the breakaway troupe of dancer and rival impresario Ida Rubinstein. The split with Diaghilev was permanent: the great presenter died shortly thereafter, never reconciling with his protégé.

The ballet is an homage to the music of Tchaikovsky: the chilly intellectualist paradoxically revered the great Russian romantic. Stravinsky here takes some lesser-known tunes from Tchaikovsky’s piano and song repertoire and reimagines them in a narrative based on The Ice Maiden by Hans Christian Andersen.

The score contains some of Stravinsky’s most exquisite music. With no sense of irony, he strings together the simple tunes and harmonies of the earlier master adding an acidic edge and and finely pointed scoring. The piece recalls the humor and jagged edges of the earlier Petrushka while looking forward to the austerities of the later neoclassical works.

Hannu LIntu

Also, Lintu opted for the complete 45-minute ballet over the composer’s 25-minute condensation, the Divertimento (impeccably recorded by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Ballet scores have their longeurs, and the Finnish conductor was not able to avoid the occasional tedium.

Unfortunately the composition posed some problems in the performance, not the least of which was the toll the heat and humidity took on the orchestra’s intonation – so important in a piece demanding the utmost in clarity.The second half of the program more than made up for the long first half with two concise works ideally suited to al fresco music-making.

Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto is a 20-minute catalogue of the composer’s tricks of the trade: the pounding left hand, the fleeting arpeggios and clanging octaves, the refined bombast of the inveterate showman. Not much substance to speak of, but a great vehicle for a virtuoso.

Markus Groh

The pianist Markus Groh makes a specialty of Liszt and he delivered a performance of commanding technique and panache, showy without being flamboyant. The orchestra was on better form for the most part, with a responsive brass section and a notable contribution by principle cellist Walter Hamen, who managed to stay in tune despite the mugginess.

The program concluded with music by Tchaikovsky himself, the rousing Capriccio Italien, a perfect conclusion to a well thought-out evening.

This familiar showpiece is actually a very sophisticated composition for all its crowd-pleasing elements. From the opening fanfares through several mood changes and a nice orchestral diversity, the firm hand of the composer as craftsman brings the work’s disparate sections and catchy melodies together into a satisfying structure. The concluding tarantella was well-paced by conductor Lintu creating a tub-thumping finale which brought the audience to its feet.

The program will be repeated 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Grant Park Orchestra serves up enjoyable night of lightish showpieces”

  1. Posted Jul 29, 2010 at 11:10 pm by Tiffany

    I went to this concert on Wednesday and I absolutely loved it. It was my first orchestra concert, so i was excited. I really loved the Pianist. He did an excellent job and made the concert exciting and dramatic. I would definetely go to another Grant Park Concert again.

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