While I am in Norway, I'm afraid that my posts will have pretty minimal formatting. In any event, here's my Saturday June 20 Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com review of the Thursday night June 18, 2009, Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert with Sir Mark Elder, soprano Patricia Racette, baritone Philip Cutlip, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus.
CSO's Dvořák fest windup is not for completists only
Friday night the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had a "greatest hits" program scheduled as a capstone to its three-week Dvořák Festival -- the Carnival Overture, the Cello Concerto, and the Symphony No. 9, From the New World.
Thursday night, however, in a program that will be repeated tonight as the festival's final performance and the last CSO concert of the season, rarities and excerpts were the agenda. So many of them, and so disparate a lot, that a friend suggested before a single note had sounded that the program looked like a variety show. And, despite a number of glorious moments, I'm afraid my friend was right.
Now we've been in festival mode. And one of the goals of guest conductor Mark Elder and CSO leaders in curating these events was to show the overlooked variety as well as the underestimated depth of the output of the great Czech composer.
Ideally, this might have been achieved with a concert staging of the wonderful 1900 opera Rusalka, such as the Cleveland Orchestra did last season. But Cleveland also had bankrolling for a superb fully staged production last summer, while CSO leaders could not see a prudent way to bring off such a concert performance here.
Instead we got the title character's well-known "Song to the Moon." And the opening scene of a much less known and quite wondrously strange earlier opera, The Jacobin. And another soprano aria, from the oratorio Saint Ludmila. And three of the second set of Slavonic Dances. And an all-but-forgotten overture, My Homeland. And the F minor Romance for Violin and Orchestra. And the evening's big news, the first-ever CSO performance of Dvořák 's grand yet highly personal setting of the Te Deum, which he wrote for its 1892 New York premiere to introduce himself to American audiences. And all of this in just two hours, including intermission.
If that sounds like a lot to digest, let alone to form a coherent impression from, it was. Still, a number of things stood out. The Chicago Symphony Chorus was stupendous in both the Jacobin excerpt and the very Czech Te Deum. Patricia Racette sang the "Song of the Moon" as if it had words -- and Slavic words at that -- unlike some more famous sopranos who turn it into a senseless fantasy. The young New York baritone Philip Cutlip was her able counterpart in the two works with the chorus. And Rachel Barton Pine gave us the muscle plus the tenderness in the violin Romance.
But the great achievements of this excellent festival came on other nights. Dvořák wanted the world to know him as a maker of full-length works, be they symphonies, concertos, chamber works, or operas. And Elder, the CSO, and their guests demonstrated consistently this month that the Czech master's ambition was fulfilled.