CSO’s Chris Martin shines brightly in Haydn concerto

Wed Oct 21, 2015 at 1:47 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Christopher Martin performed Haydn's Trumpet Concerto with the CSO Tuesday night.
Christopher Martin performed Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with the CSO Tuesday night.

It’s been an oddly bifurcated week for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before they head out for a short three-city U.S. tour with Riccardo Muti. Two different programs were led by two different conductors since last Thursday, the second of which had its final performance Tuesday night with James Feddeck making his downtown CSO debut.

Winner of the 2013 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, Feddeck served as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra from 2009 to 2013. He made his CSO bow this past June leading two programs at the Morton Arboretum.

On that suburban summer program was Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto performed by CSO principal Christopher Martin, which was encored Tuesday night.

Haydn’s ebullient concerto has had many outings on the Orchestra Hall stage, not least by the CSO’s legendary longtime principal trumpet Bud Herseth. It’s high praise indeed to say that Martin’s gleaming performance was in the finest tradition of his celebrated predecessor. Martin played with an elegant, boldly projected tone, making child’s play of the difficulties, adding apt grace notes and tossing in some extra bravura in his cadenzas without ever sounding unidiomatic. The accompaniment of Martin’s colleagues under Feddeck’s alert direction was as deft and spirited as the playing of the soloist.

The evening led off with Cesar Franck’s Les Eolides. Theodore Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of this early tone poem with the CSO in 1895. It has not been played by the orchestra since Pierre Monteux led the last performance at Ravinia in 1946.

Notwithstanding the advocacy of the program note, it’s not too hard to understand why. Feddeck directed the ebb flow of this music solidly enough but even at just 11 minutes Franck’s Wagner Lite essay meanders and feel shapeless. With all the works premiered by the CSO over the past 125 years, are there no better nuggets to unearth than this?

James Feddeck
James Feddeck

Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 concluded the evening. The Russian composer’s expansive canvas received a worthy performance though there were times when the young maestro’s lack of seasoning was apparent. Feddeck displayed a tendency to let secondary material overrun the melodic line, as well as drawing out phrase endings to no discernible benefit at the expense of forward momentum. This epic work with its long-limbed melodies is a challenge to hold together in the best of hands, and there were repeated moments where the music seemed to be on cruise control with a lack of grip and incisiveness coming from the podium.

Still, Feddeck seems to have an essential feel for Rachmaninoff’s rich brand of Late Romanticism. He skillfully balanced climaxes, and the lean textures avoided soupiness in the arching lyrical melodies. Most of the big moments came off reliably with a notably punchy and exhilarating finale.

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