Violinist Lamsma delivers exciting and individual Korngold with Grant Park Orchestra 

Sat Jun 25, 2022 at 1:43 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Simone Lamsma performed Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concero with David Danzmayer leading the Grant Park Orchestra Friday night. Photo: Otto van den Toorn

Conductor Carlos Kalmar is sidelined at the Grant Park Music Festival this week due to a positive Covid test. Riccardo Muti went through the same dilemma last week. 

Are we ready yet to admit that we are past the point where daily Covid testing and strict separation measures have any real utility or genuine health benefit? All of us have either had Covid, have it now or will get it, and very few of us are going to succumb to it. Continuing the harsh pandemic strictures that were put in place over a year ago seems illogical and largely meaningless at this point—almost a kind of public health Puritanism. Not to mention an invasion of medical privacy for prominent artists who test positive but must have the news released to the public to explain cancellations.

That said, music organizations have managed to keep local concerts going by dealing with positive tests of key personnel quickly and resourcefully. When Kalmar had to bow out of Wednesday’s Grant Park Orchestra concert mere hours before the curtain, the festival snapped up Stephen Alltop, music director of the Apollo Chorus, to lead a hastily revised program.

For Friday night’s program, the festival flew in David Danzmayr to conduct. With minimal rehearsal time available, the scheduled Symphony No. 11 of Shostakovich was jettisoned for Brahms’ First Symphony while Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto remained.  

A good thing too, for soloist Simone Lamsma delivered an individual and exhilarating account of Korngold’s tune-packed work. 

A pair of hovering helicopters proved fitfully distracting but not enough to ruin the evening.

Largely mining material from some of his lesser-known Warner Brothers film scores, Korngold blends his sumptuous melodies with a restless quirky bravura in winning fashion. It’s wonderful to see this long-neglected 1945 work finally achieving the prominence it has long deserved.

While Lamsma soared through the fireworks of the outer movements with technical ease, what made her performance striking was her treating the work as more than just a summer fiddle showpiece. The Dutch violinist consistently drew out Korngold’s lush melodies, playing with a sweet, shimmering tone and bringing out the rhapsodic element of the concerto. In the Romance, Lamsma’s spacious phrasing was sustained with great skill, making the slow movement into a mesmerizing dream-like fantasia.

Danzmayr’s accompaniment felt a bit muted in the opening movement, likely due to the short rehearsal time. Yet his direction grew in grip and vitality as the performance unfolded. The finale showed conductor and soloist as equal partners; taken at a crackling tempo, Lamsma and the orchestra tossed the melodic phrases back and forth, accelerating to a slam-bang coda. Enthusiastic standing ovations for soloists are de rigueur at Millennium Park but the cheers and sustained applause for Lamsma were well deserved.

David Danzmayr condcuted Friday night’s concert.

Danzmayr is familiar to Chicago-area concertgoers from his successful four-season run (2012-16) as music director of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. Last fall Danzmayr took the baton handoff from fellow Austrian Kalmar as MD of the Oregon Symphony. 

The conductor has modified the frenetic podium style of his IPO days in a way that is just as effective without the gran mal seizures. Danzmayr led a sturdy middle-of-the-road reading of Brahms’ First Symphony to close the evening, keeping firm bite and momentum without whipping the intensity out of scale. 

He drew an impressively rich and weighty Brahmsian sonority from the GPO musicians. The Andante went with a natural easy flow, highlighted by some nicely pastoral wind solos. In the finale, Danzmayr gave each contrasting episode its due while building inexorably to the blazing final bars.

Due to a city Pride event Saturday night at Millennium Park, this program will not be repeated. The next Grant Park Music Festival concert will take place 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 29. The program features Britten’s Spring Symphony, Arvo Pärt’s In principio, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture.

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