Offbeat Baroque and dance hybrid works for CSO, Hubbard Street

Thu Apr 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Eugene Izotov performed Marcello’s Oboe Concerto with conductor Nicholas McGegan and the CSO Wednesday night. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

This week’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts bring the annual collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

For this event, the CSO is reduced to its chamber-dimension form, and on paper, the lineup looked equally bite-sized—a basically Baroque jumble of two dance works, and a pair of soloists in unrelated pieces, with only one work longer than ten minutes.

Still, with some superb solo playing, inspired dancing from the Hubbard Street troupe and  lively direction by conductor Nicholas McGegan, Wednesday night’s program turned out to be greater than its constituent parts.

A buoyant performance of the Corelli Concerto grosso in D major, Op.6, no. 4,  led off the evening. Even on “modern” instruments the two-dozen CSO string players brought a fizzing vitality to the music with Robert Chen leading the violins in the lightning bravura bursts of the outer movements.

Wednesday night’s abbreviated Afterwork Masterworks program offered only one of the two oboe concertos scheduled, with CSO principal Eugene Izotov as solo protagonist. Appointed to the CSO by Daniel Barenboim in 2005, Izotov’s distinctive timbre and unerring musicianship play a significant part in the orchestra’s current esteemed standard of corporate greatness and individual versatility.

Marcello’s Oboe Concerto may be a thrice-potted affair, but it’s still a melodic and engaging work, particularly when given this level of advocacy. Izotov’s polished technique brought a stately grace to the opening movement and his breath control was astounding in the Adagio, phrasing the long, arching lines with a seamless legato. The concluding Presto had all the polished ease one would expect, tossed off by Izotov with an understated bravura that maintained a Rococo elegance. McGegan and the CSO string players gave their colleague equally nimble support.

Amy Briggs is one of those Chicago musicians that tend to get taken for granted. Regular pianist of the CSO’s MusicNow series, her stellar musicianship has enlivened any number of contemporary music concerts in the city.

Briggs was the sole instrumental backing for the first dance work, Blanco. In this short moody piece by Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, four spotlit female dancers’ unsettled abstract movements reflected the tense drama of Mendelssohn’s Prelude in E Minor and Alkan’s Prelude in A-flat Minor, given superb keyboard advocacy by Briggs.

The second piece As few as 3000—was scored to the outer movements of Martinu’s Toccata e Due Canzoni. A quasi-piano concerto, the work is pure Martinu — melodic, tartly rhythmic and masterfully crafted. Why the prolific Czech composer’s music continues to remain so inexplicably neglected is a mystery.

The prevailing optimism and buoyant energy of Martinu’s score was reflected in Cerrudo’s choreography for the entire Hubbard Street ensemble with a variety of pas de deux, entwined limbs and witty tableaux for the lined-up dancers. Briggs, McGegan and a larger CSO ensemble gave the dancers fine backing and Martinu’s music first-class advocacy.

The program will bs repeated 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday with the addition of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G major, alla rustica, and Oboe Concerto in F major.; 313-294-3000.

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