Pine shows grace under meteorological pressure at Grant Park

Thu Jul 14, 2016 at 12:29 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Rachel Barton PIne performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 Wednesday night with the Grant Park Orchestra.
Rachel Barton Pine performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 Wednesday night with the Grant Park Orchestra.

With apologies to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, it really was a dark and stormy night Wednesday on the lakefront–one that suited the pair of minor-key works on tap from the Grant Park Orchestra.

Unfortunately, in the final bars of the Bruch Violin Concerto the rains came, along with some imposing thunder and lightning, too close for comfort to the Pritzker Pavilion. It was clearly a dangerous situation and an announcement was quickly made that the concert was being curtailed.

That’s too bad since one would have liked to hear what conductor Michal Nesterowicz might have done with the scheduled Schumann Symphony No. 4 in his festival debut. Music director of the Orquesta Sinfonica ef Tenerife, the Polish conductor takes the reins of the Basel Symphony Orchestra this fall.

Nesterowicz led off with the Mala Suite (“Little Suite”), music of his countryman Witold Lutoslawski. The work hails from 1950 when the composer concentrated on writing inoffensive music inspired by Polish folk tunes, the better to stay out of trouble with the communist authorities.

While not among Lutoslawski’s most individual or important efforts, the suite is tuneful and snappily orchestrated. Conducting sans podium, the very tall Nesterowicz brought out the driving energy and dynamic contrasts in the “Hurra Polka,” and the Grant Park woodwinds touchingly conveyed the light melancholy of the “Piosenka” (Song). The insistent string theme in “Fujarka” (Fife) sounded uncannily like a pre-echo of John Williams’ shark theme from Jaws.

Rachel Barton Pine managed to just finish her performance of Max Bruch’s greatest hit, the perennial but undeniably effective Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor.

A native Chicagoan and local favorite, Pine took a more fantasy-like approach in this work than one often hears, spaciously drawing out Bruch’s arching melodies. At times one wished for a bit more dramatic bite and grip from the soloist, as well as from Nesterowicz’s somewhat understated accompaniment.

Still, this was an admirable performance and Pine was at her best in the Adagio, with tender playing that explored a range of gentle hues and half-tones.

The timely acceleration of thunder, lightning and rain ratcheted up the intensity in a strong account of the finale by Pine, which rounded off the performance in sturdy fashion. The weather situation prevented a curtain call but Pine and colleagues showed grace under pressure in getting the performance in under the wire.

Christoph König conducts the Grant Park Orchestra in Haydn’s Symphony No. 55 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 Friday at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pritzker Pavilion.

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