Sunday, March 23, 2008

Russian Easter Overture

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed the Russian Easter Overture in 1888 and conducted the first performance in December of that year. Last night I attended a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by guest conductor Charles Dutoit. I was surprised to discover, upon reading the program notes, that it had not been performed on a subscription concert since 1951. This is among Rimsky-Korsakov's most popular works and its absence from Orchestra hall for more than a half century is inexplicable. Fortunately it has returned and the audience was treated to the stunning orchestration of Rimsky-Korsakov who was at the height of his powers when he wrote this piece, following Capriccio Espagnole and Sheherazade which had premiered earlier in the same year. Under Dutoit's baton each section of the orchestra displayed the virtuosity that is the hallmark of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The concert also included the Symphony in C of Igor Stravinsky, a twentieth century neoclassical icon completed in 1940 specifically for the fiftieth anniversary of the orchestra, and the Brahm's First Piano Concerto performed by the virtuoso Russian pianist Yevgeny Kissin. Each work was performed brilliantly by the orchestra while Kissin's mastery of the difficult Brahms concerto was the high point of the evening. This was certainly one of the best concerts that I have had the pleasure to attend this season.

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