With news of another Muti health crisis, de Waart and CSO deliver eloquent Brahms

Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Edo de Waart conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in music of Mozart and Brahms Thursday night at Orchestra Hall.

Notwithstanding T.S. Eliot, for Riccardo Muti and the CSO, January is the cruelest month, not April.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced Thursday night that their music director has to pull out of the CSO’s upcoming nine-concert Asian tour due to an inguinal hernia, which requires surgery that could not be postponed. Two years ago a heart arrhythmia caused a Muti podium fall and a resulting broken jaw.

So Thursday night’s concert, once again led by subbing guest conductor Edo de Waart, wound up being pushed into the background due to the breaking news about the orchestra’s ailing maestro.

That’s unfortunate for with a full week of rehearsals—unlike the previous program—de Waart and the CSO delivered worthy Mozart and notably fine Brahms, providing an enjoyable evening for the audience as well as practical prep for a program the orchestra will take on tour to six cities in Asia next week with Lorin Maazel.

The Dutch conductor showed a well-judged mix of grace and drama in Mozart’s Jupiter symphony (No. 41). The first movement was generous with repeats—less so elsewhere—and de Waart drew playing of fluent buoyancy and light articulation without neglecting the scale and weight of Mozart’s final, grandest symphony. The Andante was particularly fine, airy and graceful, with the ensuing Allegretto vigorous without losing an essential galant lightness.

Others have delivered more adrenaline in the celebrated finale, and that remarkable contrapuntal moment when all five themes are blasted out simultaneously didn’t quite provide the thrilling climax that it should. But this was refined and stylish Mozart for the most part and played with superb gleam and polished elegance by the orchestra.

The Brahms’ Fourth Symphony presented Thursday night proved something more. De Waart directed a first movement with keen momentum and more transparent textures than the weighty approach often heard (“all beer and beard,” complained one early Brahms detractor). The Allegro giocoso was ripe and robust—Brahms’ only use of the triangle ever here–with wonderfully even horn playing in the trio.

De Waart is an organic conductor and one to slowly build up the drama rather than unleash it all at once; and so the Passacagalia finale opened with a statement of the variation theme more elegant than incisive. Yet the conductor inexorably built up the structure with the variations vitally contrasted and characterized—wonderful wind playing by all—and Brahms’ tough, defiant coda had ample heft and resonant impact.

Yet it was the Andante that proved the high point of the performance and of the evening. One of Brahms’ most eloquent inspirations, de Waart’s skillful pacing and dynamic nuance elicited quite beautiful string playing and expressive winds from the CSO. Indeed, the vein of pensive introspective melancholy seemed to reflect the prevailing atmosphere on an evening that brought news of a new medical crisis for the musicians’ popular music director


This program also marked the debut of the CSO’s new timpanist David Herbert sitting in this week as a guest. Currently timpanist of the San Francisco Symphony, Herbert will officially join the CSO in July but attracted attention Thursday for his fine playing as well as the small, sharply angled and extremely cool-looking timps he used for the Mozart.

The program will be repeated 1:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday. cso.org; 312-294-3000.

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2 Responses to “With news of another Muti health crisis, de Waart and CSO deliver eloquent Brahms”

  1. Posted Jan 19, 2013 at 7:22 am by Brian Richardson

    Thanks for your mention of David Herbert. He is an awesome musician who is truly a student of the instrument and a proponent of the warm sounds that come from rolling his own Irish Kalfo calfskin timp heads. He should fit right in with the other section-leading virtuosos of the CSO.

  2. Posted Jan 22, 2013 at 9:31 am by Lawrence A. Johnson

    A note from David Herbert on the timpani he used in the Mozart:

    Hello Lawrence,

    Thank you for the very kind words and mention about the instruments used in the Mozart Symphony!

    They are 25″ and 28″ Goodman chain timpani… the first timpani I ever purchased. I bought them from Carroll Musical Instrument Rentals in NYC. They were in poor condition from decades of rental “activity”, so I eventually sent them to American Drum Manufacturing Co. in Denver to refurbish them.

    What ended up happening was that they had to cut off about an inch of copper and re-shape the bowl lips. An internal support ring was also added to each bowl. The process decreased the depth of each instrument by 2-3 inches, so the sound is now better suited for the earlier orchestral repertoire. The feedback from conductors and colleagues has fortunately been consistently positive and again.. it’s especially nice to see them get mentioned in your article. Thank you so very much!

    warmest wishes,

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