Danzmayr returns to Grant Park Orchestra with mixed results

Thu Aug 03, 2023 at 10:12 am

By Tim Sawyier

David Danzmayr led the Grant Park Orchestra in music of Beethoven, Rodrigo, and Unsuk Chin Wednesday night. Photo: Norman Timonera

David Danzmayr was music director of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra from 2012 to 2016, and during his tenure there molded the south suburban ensemble into one of the area’s finer regional groups. He made a memorable debut with the Grant Park Orchestra in 2018, and has since assumed the directorship of the Oregon Symphony—taking a baton handoff from his Portland predecessor, Carlos Kalmar.

That history left one with high hopes for Danzmayr’s return visit to the Pritzker Pavilion on Wednesday night yet the results fell oddly flat.

The evening opened with the Grant Park premiere of Unsuk Chin’s subito con forza (“suddenly with force”). This taut, five-minute curtain-raiser pays homage to Beethoven both by way of direct quotations from his work and a generally angular aesthetic. 

The opening chord is identical to that of the Coriolan Overture, though it resolves into jangling percussion and a creepily agitated mood. Rapid string figurations are punctuated by quotations from the “Emperor” Concerto and Fifth Symphony. Danzmayr was unfazed as the wind turned the pages of his score, keeping subito con forza skittering energetically for its brief duration.

Aniello Desiderio performed Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez Wednesday night. Photo: Norman Timonera

Guitar virtuoso Aniello Desiderio was in the spotlight for Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. While Desiderio’s technique was faultless, his overall performance felt stiff and subdued, particularly for a work that can tolerate some showmanship. Aranjuez was a summer retreat for Spanish royalty, an atmosphere captured in the concerto’s open-air outer movements. These went fluently, though Desiderio’s approach felt casual, with seemingly little effort to plumb more than the music’s surface pleasantries.

The work’s centerpiece, its elegiac Adagio, opened with a mournful English horn solo from Anne Bach, though Desiderio’s literal rendition felt like it missed the movement’s rhapsodic spirit. Danzmayr provided suitably hushed support, though there was more poetry in the sweeping orchestral tuttis than from the soloist.

The evening closed with Danzmayr leading a workmanlike account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The Austrian favored fast tempos that more closely hewed to Beethoven’s indicated metronome markings, an approach that at times brought flair but more often made a harried impression.

The Poco sostenuto flowed but at moments seemed glib at Danzmayr’s steady clip, while the ensuing terpsichorean Vivace felt glossed over, with many of Beethoven’s intricacies elided. Eschewing the movement’s repeat only added to the general sense of impatient efficiency.

The glowing Allegretto went best, with Danzmayr expertly pacing its inexorable unfolding, with the Grant Park woodwinds bringing delicacy to the movement’s major-key episodes. The Presto’s wit did not come across on Wednesday, and the slower trio portions felt genuinely blown past, with little of the nobility one expects. 

Danzmayr’s headlong approach was better suited to the rousing Allegro con brio, where keeping the foot on the gas is undeniably called for, ending the night with military vigor highlighted by the gleaming Grant Park brass.

Question: When did Millennium Park picnic time move from the lawn down to the reserved seating? A beverage in the Pritzker Pavilion seats is certainly welcome, but some Grant Park patrons are now regularly enjoying four-course dinners in the paid ticketing area during performances. The crumpling bags and incessant fussing, to say nothing of the smell, are exceptionally distracting for those who prefer to listen to the music.

Eric Jacobsen leads the Grant Park Orchestra in Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, Copland’s Quiet City, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Jessie Montgomery’s L.E.S. Characters with violist Masumi Per Rostad at the Harris Theater, 6:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. grantparkmusicfestival.com

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