Next time you travel to Chicago, be sure to check out the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Under the impeccable direction of maestro Riccardo Muti, is one of the city’s greatest treasures.
The CSO celebrated its success last Saturday night at the annual Gala concert in the magnificent Orchestra Hall. The acoustics of Orchestra Hall allow even the highest balcony seats to enjoy the rich, full sound of the orchestra.
After 10 years at the orchestra’s helm, Maestro Muti will be stepping down. So time is running out to enjoy his masterful guidance of this world class orchestra. Maestro Muti effortlessly embodies the mood of every moment and passes that along to his players in a gestural vocabulary that is highly emotive but also calm and composed, as is the Maestro is himself.
The frothy overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was a vibrant and engaging way to start the evening.
The CSO was then joined by Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca, who has been hailed in NYC as well as globally, singing Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, based on the lyric poetry of the German romantic, Friedrich Rückert.
As a mezzo, Ms. Garanca has a full, commanding lower register, which fit the dark tone of the material. It was then almost surprising, and certainly delightful, to hear her flawlessly navigate all the way up to the lightest of her soprano register. Her sensitive handling of the legato lines were full of grace and beauty as well.
However, I am just not a fan of these art songs. Call me a heathen; but I’d much rather hear a tune I can recognize as such than listen to what seems to just ramble on like recitative. I thought these somber pieces were an odd choice for an otherwise upbeat program. Regardless, the lovely Ms.Garanca has an outstanding control of her fine instrument.
I will admit that I do prefer the musical theater singing actor over the well dressed but rigid classical performer in a recital setting. Musical theater singers have to act when they sing, move with what they feel, and still produce beautiful tone. As elegant and beautiful as she was in her long, black gown, Ms. Garanca never smiled, and hardly moved anything other than her lips. I was impressed, but disengaged. I am equally baffled by the classical tradition that the audience should cough and rattle their programs between pieces rather than applaud the singer song by song.
Fortunately, the balance of the program afforded the audience two more uplifting orchestral pieces filled with memorable motifs, dynamic melodic construction, and emotionally stirring moments, which satistified everyone.
Les Preludes by Liszt evokes a wide gamut of emotional response, from the romantic to the triumphant. As a boy, I grew up watching reruns on TV of the Flash Gordon serials which my father watched in the movie theaters. That series was liberally underscored with this piece. In movies, music tells you what to feel, and what you should feel at every moment is quite clear in this piece.
Before playing the final piece, the overture to William Tell, Maestro Muti, in his endearing and highly personal way, took time out to tell the audience that he wasn’t aware, as a young music student, that this piece had been co-opted as American “folk music” by making it the theme of The Lone Ranger radio and television programs. He also recounted, with dismay, that the Nazis had made it their anthem as well. He wanted the audience to be aware, particularly in the light of current world events, that it was intended as a song of freedom from oppression for William Tell and the Swedes.