Rachleff bids farewell to Chicago Philharmonic with exhilarating performance

Sat May 25, 2013 at 9:35 am

By Gerald Fisher

Larry Rachleff led the Chicago Philharmonic in symphonies of Bernstein and Schubert in his farewell concert Friday night at Pick-Staiger Hall.

For his final outing as music director of the Chicago Philharmonic at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall Friday night, Larry Rachleff chose two ambitious works that challenged the audience as well as the orchestra to the highest levels of musical involvement.

The concert was a tribute to the conductor’s 23-year leadership, his rapport with the players and his respect for a loyal audience who were rewarded with deeply satisfying performances of Bernstein’s intense Jeremiah Symphony and Schubert’s marathon Symphony No. 9.

Both works are clearly well-loved by the conductor and he launched into a strong committed opening to the early (1942) Bernstein work, which takes its dark modalities from Jewish liturgical sources.  The dry acoustic of Pick-Staiger was hard on the driving string sound though the ear soon adjusted and could concentrate on a well-controlled  and remarkably unified performance.

The symphony’s second movement requires some quicksilver rhythmic changes, which were handled expertly, the artists reveling in the syncopation and irrepressible energy that characterize Bernstein’s early work.  Out of context, the rhythms sound jazzy and anticipate some of the dances of West Side Story.

Moving right into the third movement, which is both heart and origin of the finished work, Rachleff provided a well-balanced cushion for the fine mezzo voice of his wife, Susan Lorette Dunn, whose rich ethnically-tinged delivery was well-suited to the words of the Hebrew Lamentation.  The lack of texts for this movement was unfortunate as Dunn’s emotionally driven interpretation was clearly inspired by the rich association of the ancient words.

Schubert’s last completed symphony was an appropriate work to choose as the valedictory performance by this conductor and his long-time associates.  He had the sprawling, unremitting hour-long experience under his hand and never succumbed to any let-downs in control throughout the performance.

Each movement had firm thematic logic and Rachleff chose brisk rhythms to push through the melodic lines and maintain an excitement that lasted until the final notes. Here again, the ambience of Pick-Staiger was less than ideal for the opening movement’s resonant brass and wind sections.  The instrumental sections were clearly delineated however and the strings acquitted themselves particularly well, as did the winds in a pastoral role.

The second movement was addressed brusquely from the start and the martial rhythm continued throughout, always returning to conquer any milder impulses that intervened. Perhaps some tenderness was lost as a result of this approach but this was a lively showcase for the wind and brass forces.

The third movement Scherzo was irrepressible and dance-like while still vital with the energetic conductor’s baton controlling the ebb and flow. The final Allegro Vivace brought a touch of Beethoven into the experience at the start and just got bigger and more expansive as it rollicked forward inevitably. Rachleff was still unrelenting and whipped up the tempos, getting the subtle string modulations as well as the broader brass chorales in the run-up to an exhilarating finale, which was enthusiastically received by a substantial audience clearly in a mood to celebrate the Chicago career of their long-time maestro.

Rachleff was gifted with a book of memories and a final fanfare by his colleagues as he left an orchestra at a high level of achievement and with an encouraging future under new leadership.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Rachleff bids farewell to Chicago Philharmonic with exhilarating performance”

  1. Posted May 26, 2013 at 7:44 am by Laura

    Larry Rachleff is a true artist-perhaps a little under the radar for the public. However, the musicians know when they see the real deal…you can’t fool them. There are conductors with a more recognizable name, but few can match Larry’s depth of musicianship. On top of it, he’s a real humanitarian. The orchestra was fortunate to have him guide them for these years, and will miss him. His wife, Susan, is also a shining star-absolutely stunning. Bravi tutti!!!

  2. Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:52 am by Bonnie Bierma

    My sincere congratulations to Larry Rachleff, who has inspired me since my days at Michigan, and whom I admire so very much for his extraordinary gifts and accomplishments! The Chicago Philharmonic has been fortunate all these years. Congratulations also to Scott Speck, another man for whom I have great admiration and for whom I was privileged to play in the West Michigan Symphony for many years. Under his leadership, the Chicago Phil can look forward to a bright future!

Leave a Comment