With Orchestra Hall still shaking down from the recent residency of Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director designate Riccardo Muti and the attendant Mutimania, the CSO turns its podium over to a busy Chicago-based conductor this week.
As music director and principal conductor at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis (above, left) opened the season with Puccini's Tosca and is in the midst of leading the Lyric Orchestra in compelling performances of Gounod's Faust through November 7.
Davis is at his best in the opera pit and in music of his native Britain. However, leading the CSO Thursday at Orchestra Hall gave him a chance to deliver in a German work inspired by the lore and landscape of Scotland and in a world première by an American composer of song settings for baritone and orchestra.
The evening got off to a bouncing start with Stravinsky's 1937-38 Dumbarton Oaks Concerto for 13 musicians. Both a capstone of Stravinsky's neoclassical experiments and a truce with his Baroque source material, this response to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos was given a buoyant reading, if not one with all of the precision that modern music specialists can bring to it.
Composer James Primosch was celebrating his 53rd birthday Thursday and having the CSO and the rich-voiced young American baritone Brian Mulligan (above, right) offering the first performance of his new Songs for Adam must have had him walking on air.
As with the 2002 CSO première of his From a Book of Hours, Adam is the work of a skilled melodist and orchestrator. But whether it was the mundane poetry of the also-commissioned Susan Stewart or Primosch's fascination with bells and swelling strings, as this 30-minute cycle of the life of the Biblical first man went on, it started to lose its claim on the listener. Mulligan sang boldly, sweetly, and beautifully throughout, but it was hard not to notice very strong similarities with the vocal writing -- and subject matter -- of Britten and Bernstein as the piece took previously trodden paths.
Mendelssohn's A minor Third Symphony, Op. 56, is called the "Scottish" for its original impetus from a trip to that northern land that the composer took at age 20 and for the sounds and feelings it conjures in its four interlinked movements. Davis found the operatic qualities in a work that draws on some of the same stories and history as so many musical dramas; he also gave it a very British briskness and drive.