Sunday, May 27, 2012

Beethoven and More

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, Music Director

Last night I attended an especially felicitous concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  The centerpiece of the concert was Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat major for Piano and Orchestra, "The Emperor".  The soloist was Emanuel Ax while David Robertson was the guest conductor.
Beethoven wrote this concerto, his last for piano and orchestra, in 1809 and it was premiered in November 1811 in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra.  At the Viennese premier the next year Beethoven's student Carl Czerny was the soloist due to Beethoven's advancing deafness.  Alfred Brendel (who has recorded it with the Chicago Symphony) has described the the concerto as imbued with "a grand and radiant vision, a noble vision of freedom."  From the opening chord in the orchestra and the answering arpeggio from the piano the concerto demands your attention and rewards your senses.  The performance last night by Emanuel Ax was scintillating with his delicate touch in the soft phrases balanced by a magnificent command of the forte sections.  The result, with conductor Robertson bringing out the best of the orchestra, was a sublime performance of one of the greatest concertos in the repertoire.  The audience could not hold back and responded with applause at the end of the first movement eliciting an aside from Mr. Robertson who said, "Ludwig would be proud!"
At the end of the piece the soloist and orchestra were treated to a standing ovation.  The remainder of the concert was a joy as well.  The opening piece was Paul Hindeminth's "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber".  This four movement suite is one of my personal favorites as it is both a thoughtful and tuneful creation based on themes of one of the early romantic composers.
After the interval the concert concluded with a stirring rendition of the "Symphonic Dances", Op. 45, by Sergei Rachmaninov.  This three movement work was his last orchestral composition completed in 1940 only three years before his death.  Each of the three movements evoked the dance with the middle movement a wistful waltz in 6/8 time.
The evening was a delight from beginning to end and a great way to celebrate the end of May.

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