Jackiw’s solo playing is the highlight in uneven Illinois Philharmonic concert

Sun Feb 21, 2016 at 1:17 pm

By Tim Sawyier

Stefan Jackiw performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra Saturday night.
Stefan Jackiw performed Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra Saturday night.

The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra performed a concert of Austrian and Russian music Saturday night at the Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center in Frankfort under music director David Danzmayr. Taken as a whole, the performance was a testament to the progress this ensemble has made during Danzmayr’s tenure.

The evening started with Heiras Schwester (The Sister), an eight-minute work by Wolfgang Danzmayr, David’s father. The 2003 piece was conceived after a performance of Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue, K. 546 by Salzburg’s Camerata academica under artistic director Sandor Végh, a friend of the composer. Végh suggested the elder Danzmayr “do something” with K. 546, resulting in the present opus.

Heiras Schwester is difficult to make heads or tails of. W. Danzmayr uses elements from an earlier work of his called Heira—the name of a Jewish girl the composer saw on a tombstone in a Viennese cemetery—and intermingles them with well-known Mozart fragments to create a “virtual sister” for the departed girl.

The result, unsurprisingly, is as muddled as the inspiration. A typical moment of the piece occurred when over a dense atonal bed of sound in the strings, one suddenly heard the oboe solo from the Adagio of the Gran Partita. Were it not for the program notes and David Danzmayr’s extensive opening remarks, the piece would have been utterly incomprehensible. Ultimately the pastiche effect made for an amusing few minutes at best, during which the IPO performed more or less gamely.

After his father’s piece Danzmayr was joined by violinist phenom Stefan Jackiw for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. Jackiw will make his Carnegie Hall debut in two weeks with the Russian National Orchestra in this concerto, and he is clearly well prepared. The soloist’s playing was musically astute from start to finish, delivered with a shimmering tone and flawless technique. He gave the opening solo of the Allegro moderato a bardic feel, and the movement’s B Major second theme soared in his hands. In the Andante assai Jackiw’s supple lyricism had an understated tenderness, and his playing in the finale was incisively manic to great effect.

The best that can be said for IPO’s accompaniment is that it did not distract too much from the soloist. The orchestra never came close to matching Jackiw’s energy, and there were ensemble problems throughout. The intonation of several wind entrances could have stripped paint, clarinets and basses were glaringly apart in the closing bars of the second movement, one of the thematic returns in the third movement fell apart, and the frantic sea of pizzicati near the coda felt like relief that the performance was ending. Danzmayr elected not to join Jackiw during the curtain calls to give his ensemble a bow.

After these orchestral mishaps one was ready for a longer haul than usual with Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, “The Great,” but the IPO gave a highly sophisticated, engaging performance. Danzmayr imbued the first movement’s Andante introduction with a compelling architecture, and the ensuing Allegro ma no troppo crackled with energy under his emphatic and demonstrative leadership.

In the Andante con moto Danzmayr highlighted the subtle harmonic and accompanimental shifts, always rewarding listeners’ ears with something fresh to hear. The Scherzo was alternately vigorous and delicate, and its rustic Trio saw fine woodwind ensemble playing. The strings’ incessant rhythms in the closing Allegro vivace were always snappy, and elegant playing from the three IPO trombones was a highlight throughout. After the double bar, Danzmayr, who is leaving the IPO after this season, received appreciative applause from audience members.

The Illinois Philharmonic’s next performances are 8 p.m. March 5 at the Lincoln-Way North Performing Arts Center in Frankfort, and 3 p.m. March 6 at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet. IPO conductor laureate Carmon DeLeone leads Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Rhapsody in Blue with pianist Michael Chertock, and Porgy and Bess Concert Suite with soprano Alfreda Burke and baritone Michael Preacely. ipomusic.org


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