Chicago Philharmonic closes season with good news and revelatory Tchaikovsky

Mon May 21, 2012 at 3:13 pm

By Dennis Polkow

David Perry performed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto Sunday night with the Chicago Philharmonic.

The season finale of the Chicago Philharmonic Sunday night at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Hall was bursting with news, which orchestra members were allowed to reveal.

Assistant concertmaster Ann Palen announced that the orchestra had been selected as the exclusive orchestra of the Joffrey Ballet for the 2012-13 season so that all Joffrey productions would once again be performed with live music.

Violist Michael Hall then announced that two donors had each given the orchestra $25,000 each with the additional challenge of raising another $25,000, which the Chicago Philharmonic has already begun raising to the tune of $10,000, including donations from orchestra members.

Paul R. Judy, a former Board President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was also introduced as the new Chairman of the Board.

Getting down to the business of making music, concertmaster David Perry served as soloist for the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, a performance that could not have been better if the orchestra had brought in a top-name soloist from out of town.

Perry’s tone was never excessive nor over-sweetened, employing a skillful vibrato and bringing a refreshing touch of melancholy to this Romantic warhorse. The repeats were played at a reduced dynamic level and rarely has a cadenza grown so organically out of the musical fabric of the piece. Perry’s focused pianissimos in the highest register and spot-on intonation and playful fluctuations of rhythm made for a memorable performance.

Music director and principal conductor Larry Rachleff and the Chicago Philharmonic offered accompaniment with aplomb from the delicately nuanced introduction of the first movement to the exquisitely balanced wind choir of the second movement. The intensity of the build-up to the finale was thrillingly rendered and together with Perry’s bravura performance brought about an instantaneous and well-deserved standing ovation at the concerto’s conclusion.

Rachleff noted in spoken remarks that only ten years separated the Tchaikovsky and the Dvořák Eighth Symphony, and indeed, the concert could have benefited from some greater stylistic contrast.

Mark Elder and the Chicago Symphony and Alan Heatherington with various orchestras have given us some superb Dvořák in recent seasons, and Rachleff feels comfortable enough with this work to have conducted it without a score.

Unfortunately, the results were not as nuanced as the Tchaikovsky, and Rachleff generally opted for the notion that louder is better when it comes to Dvořák. The third movement was particularly overstuffed and the folk rhythms had little freedom or flexibility.

The finale had moments of refinement but these would give way to excessive overdrive that at times seemed more appropriate to Mahler or Shostakovich than Dvořák.

Offering a delayed encore to the Tchaikovsky after the Dvořák, Parry came forward from his place as concertmaster and offered a tranquil rendition of the second movement from the Bach Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1003 at the end of the concert.

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