Civic Orchestra closes season with two symphonic showpieces

Mon May 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Cliff Colnot led the Civic Orchestra in music of Canteloube and Stravinsky Sunday afternoon. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

For the final concert of their 92nd season the Civic Orchestra of Chicago under principal conductor Cliff Colnot,  took on two highly contrasting works and managed to nail both of them with style and voltage Sunday at Symphony Center.

Chicago’s unique training orchestra boasts a host of talented musicians who are on the road to professional careers and these free high-quality concerts are hidden treasures for Chicago concertgoers in the know.  The playing in Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was technically adept and full of musical insights.

Canteloube’s arrangements of the Auvergne songs are conservative and ingratiating and have been audience pleasers for most of their eighty years in the active repertoire. Canteloube was a disciple of Vincent D’Indy, whose 1886 Symphony on a French Mountain Air likely provided some inspiration for the younger composer’s orchestral palette, with its subtle piano obbligato and southern coloring.

Hearing them in concert is the best way to appreciate the sophistication of Canteloube’s way with the orchestral song form. Never a dull moment in these atmospheric gems with pastoral solos for oboe, flute, violin and-vocal  lines that are by turns graceful, passionate and humorous.

Julia Bentley

Julia Bentley filled the bill admirably vocally with her stylish presentation of some of the best-known songs, including the familiar Bailéro, the tender Lullaby, and the comic Oi Ayai . Her warm mezzo found expressive depths in the vocal line that the usual soprano voice might not plumb. The lighter vocal sections were at times a bit overwhelmed by the sizable orchestra with its full regiment of strings, but the orchestral playing was generally fine and gave ample opportunities for instrumental soloists to shine.

The Stravinsky was also a home run for this orchestra – no small feat, given its many difficulties. The Rite of Spring remains a kick in the solar plexus of conventionality, Stravinsky’s relentlessly brutal and kinetic assault on established musical expectations. As with the Canteloube it’s enlightening to hear this iconoclastic bombshell  in a live context with a high-powered ensemble hammering out the fiendish tempos and wandering fortissimos that abound.

The musicians of the Civic were up to the challenges of the demanding score, and Colnot marked the constantly morphing rhythms cleanly. The performance was riveting and the arc of the action was well-judged, landing precisely on the abrupt final chord that puts a sudden end to the chaos.

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