Here is my Saturday April 25 Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com review of the Thursday April 23, 2009, Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert with principal conductor Bernard Haitink and mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn.
Haitink looks both ways before conducting with CSO
We know Anton Webern as the most austere of Arnold Schoenberg's students, writing brief works both dense and minimal. But he was composing before his first lessons with Schoenberg at 20 in 1904. That same year he finished Im Sommerwind, an expansive 13-minute "Idyll for Orchestra" in the style of Richard Strauss or Alexander Zemlinsky. The piece was never performed or published in the composer's lifetime (he died in 1945), but Webern would show it to his students as a map of what came before his radical experimentation.
Many orchestras program this work as "easy Webern." Chicago, which has played plenty of the thorny works of the Second Viennese School, had never performed it before. By tapping into the longtime Austro-German traditions of the CSO, Haitink made the piece take on greater importance and beauty than usual.
Haitink had introduced Orchestra Hall audiences to the rising Dutch mezzo Christianne Stotijn (above) last fall when she was the riveting soloist in Mahler's Second Symphony, the Resurrection, and she is a most welcome return guest. In her performances of Mahler's 1901-02 Rückert Lieder, Stotijn chose to perform these five lyric settings with their most wistful number, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I am lost to the world"), coming at the end. This order allows us to hear the narrator say farewell while getting a taste of where the composer would go in his subsequent works.
Stotijn is a natural musical storyteller, and she infuses even the darkest moments of these songs with her own vibrancy and easy confidence. English horn Scott Hostetler was her essential partner.
Schubert's "Great" C Major Symphony, D. 944, is also often seen as a work of farewell. Written in 1825-26, it was not discovered or played until some 10 years after the composer's death at 31 in 1828, and was thought then to be a work of his final year. Daniel Barenboim programmed it as a summation work in his last season as music director.
Haitink brings out the steady themes of sadness in the piece but also Schubert's drive and his appetite for more life, more invention, more music. We never say goodbye, Haitink seems to be saying in his gentle yet authoritative way. We are always looking forward, even when we look back on our lives and work.
Note: Tuesday's repeat concert substitutes the Brahms First Symphony for the Schubert. Haitink has had to withdraw from Sunday's Civic Orchestra concert due to a pinched nerve in his back. Leo McFall, a young Haitink protégé from Britain, will now conduct both the Dvorák Eighth Symphony that was to be his debut here and the Richard Strauss Don Juan that Haitink was to lead.