Chicago Philharmonic, sans conductor, finds substance in lightish Scandinavian program

Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 8:35 am

By Gerald Fisher

Violinist David Perry was the soloist in music of Sinding and Svendsen Sunday night with the Chicago Philharmonic.

Technically assured and impressively cohesive, a conductorless Chicago Philharmonic served up a program of Scandinavian sweets in their Spring outing at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall Sunday night. Newly designated conductor Scott Speck served as an engaging host for the concert and longtime Philharmonic concertmaster David Perry was both leader and violin soloist in Nordic music that was unabashedly tonal and accessible.

The most interesting piece of the evening was the reimagining of a chamber version of Sibelius’ early tone poem En Saga, which began life as a septet before morphing into a large-scale orchestral showpiece. The Philharmonic’s account was a compromise chamber orchestra take, which had enough heft in the orchestration to project the work’s solidity while remaining small scale enough to open up a fresh and revealing transparency.

The work is complex and episodic with big Sibelian themes that return obsessively, nativist rhythms and natural sounds that reflect the saga nature of the original inspiration. Predominantly string-based, touches of flute and clarinet brought in a woodwind sound that was subtle but clear. Cello and double bass solos sang out and the performers whipped up enough energy for the climactic sections to make a full-sized impression that was all the more remarkable in the absence of a conductor.

Nothing on the rest of the program was as meaty as the Sibelius. Grieg’s cheerful Holberg Suite (in Olden Style), performed by a reduced string ensemble, anchored the second half with its baroque-influenced dance movements played fluently and mostly in tune. The final Rigaudon was a brisk country dance which was handled with abundant good humor.

The opening work, a brief Suite for Violin and Orchestra by Christian Sinding, also subtitled Suite im Alten Stil, showcased Perry’s virtuosity in what is, in essence, a miniature violin concerto. The baroque flourishes of the first movement were succeeded by a more romantic and richly-scored section with the small orchestra underpinning the soloist who played simple and straightforward thematic material. The finale features a cadenza of some complexity. What was most striking about the performance was the almost total lack of vibrato in the strings. This both enhanced the clarity of the lines and reduced the potential for sentimentality.

There was plenty of vibrato in the performance of the last violin piece of the evening, Johann Swendsen’s brief and melodic Romance for Solo Violin and Orchestra. Perry’s tone was rich and full, and he interacted with colleagues in three short contrasting parts. His virtuosity and vitality were to the fore in the lively middle section.

Surprising in much of this music was the technical and emotional range presented by these short pieces, so seemingly simple and understated. This Scandinavian music beguiles the ear and satisfies the intellect at the same time.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Chicago Philharmonic, sans conductor, finds substance in lightish Scandinavian program”

  1. Posted Apr 29, 2013 at 4:02 pm by R.B. Barrett

    The comments about En Saga imply that it’s 100% Sibelius. I believe some mention should have been made of the composer/arranger.

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