Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From Beethoven to Schoenberg

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Concert

"I never was very capable of expressing my feelings or emotions in words. I don't know whether this is the cause why I did it in music and also why I did it in painting. Or vice versa: That I had this way as an outlet. I could renounce expressing something in words." - Arnold Schoenberg

Saturday evening I attended a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  The concert was led by Michael Tilson Thomas as guest conductor and featured Jeremy Denk performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto in c, Op. 37.  The concert also included "Blumine" an andante for orchestra that was briefly included as the second movement of Mahler's First Symphony.  The piece was a perfect light romantic opening for the evening, providing ten minutes of "innocent, uncomplicated lyricism" according to the concert notes by Phillip Huscher.
The evening continued with a concerto from the first decade of the nineteenth century, Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, performed by Jeremy Denk in his Orchestra Hall debut.  This is considered Mozartean in spirit and sounds somewhat classical with occasional rebellious touches by Beethoven, who would go on to break most of the rules of formal classical music in his late works.  The concerto was ably performed by both soloist and orchestra.  It was a delight to hear one of my favorites in Orchestra Hall.
After the interval the final work of the evening, unusual if only that Arnold Schoenberg orchestrated the Piano Quartet No. 1 in g, Op. 25 of Johannes Brahms, a chamber composition that was more than seventy years old.  The orchestration goes to extremes that hint at a Mahlerian tinge to Brahms that could only be added by his musical descendant, Arnold Schoenberg.  At least Schoenberg considered himself the heir to Brahms legacy and this work from the 1930s is anachronistic enough to demonstrate the point.  Schoenberg composed this work as a "gesture of honor, homage and love" according to the program notes.  It is a perfect piece to highlight the talents of the CSO with a lush orchestration utilizing all of the strengths they bring to the concert hall, and they ripped and roared through the melodies and the harmonies that Schoenberg drew out of the original quartet.  

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