Uneven playing detracts in Illinois Philharmonic’s final season program

Mon May 13, 2013 at 10:23 am

By Angelika Labno

David Danzmayr led the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra in music of Copland and Beethoven Saturday night in Frankfort. Photo: Martin Baumann

The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra drew a capacity audience for its season-ending concert Saturday night at Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center in Frankfort.

The final program of music director David Danzmayr’s first season with the ensemble consisting of just two pieces, pairing Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with one of the best-known works of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Danzmayr brought strong fervor to Lincoln Portrait, as the work moved from from stoic to robust and passionate. In a dichotomy that persisted throughout the evening, the orchestra’s strings played with richness and intensity while the brass section emerged as weak and unsteady.

Henry Fogel, dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and former president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, spoke the narration boldly. Much like the beloved 16th president, the performance of Lincoln Portrait was simple and stately, but delivered on power when needed.

After intermission, Danzmayr and his forces took on Beethoven’s mighty Ninth. Tackling one of the most played symphonies is no easy feat, but Danzmayr brought a youthful energy and incisive direction to the opening movement with sharp and alert playing, particularly the precise strings.

In the second movement scherzo the brasses sounded weak in moments when they should have blared confidently, but the fast pace of the strings was finely executed. The deep Adagio third movement was languid and had more of a sustained flow.

In the celebrated vocal finale, the orchestra was joined by a quartet of young soloists from the Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center (soprano Tracy Cantin, mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, tenor Bernard Holcomb and baritone David Govertsen) and choirs from DePaul University. The vigorous vocalism of the soloists added excitement to the buildup to the finale. One momentary lapse with some miscoordination between the singers and the orchestra apart, the coda was rousing and met with an immediate burst of applause and standing ovation from the audience.

The program may have been a peculiar pairing, with a short, patriotic work by Copland and a lengthy Beethoven masterpiece. Yet it aptly reflects the Austrian maestro’s musical sympathies, mixing a cornerstone European work and American repertory, as Danzmayr plans to program an American work on every Illinois Philharmonic program next season.

Angelika Labno is a journalism graduate of DePaul University and has written for Chicago’s suburban newspapers and magazines.  She enjoys catching classical concerts all over the world, be it Toronto or a little cathedral in Italy.  

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