Here is my Saturday Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com review of the Thursday February 25, 2010, Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert with guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda and pianist Radu Lupu.
Skill on the podium and at the piano for CSO concert
Top level debut by conductor Noseda, depth and elegance from pianist Lupu
BY ANDREW PATNER
Repeated Saturday at 8 p.m. and Tuesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.
Riccardo Muti’s quick visit to Chicago Thursday to announce plans for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2010-11 season might have grabbed the headlines and the television (and web) cameras, but Muti would be the first to say that actual music making is the real story at Orchestra Hall and this week’s subscription concerts are proof of that for a number of reasons.
The much talked-about Milan-born conductor Gianandrea Noseda (above. top) is making his CSO debut. Fashionable composer Kaija Saariaho has a relatively recent and large-scale work on the program, her 2002 Orion. A very well-known composer, Rachmaninoff, is represented by a work so rarely played that it is having its CSO première 115 years after its composition. And one of the world's greatest pianists, Radu Lupu (above, bottom), is soloist in one of the greatest piano concertos, Beethoven's Third, in C minor, Op. 37.
There are not too many surprises here. In the case of Lupu, that is a great thing. There are no other pianists today who combine such technical abilities and harmonic understanding with an almost otherworldly presentation and effect as Lupu. I know of no one else who plays music at this level both horizontally (that is, conscious of the mood, development, and energy of a piece) as well as vertically (aware of the harmonic bases and changes, the inner life of a composition). Although Lupu plays Beethoven's own cadenza here, he gives the sense that he is improvising on the spot and that he is improvising exactly as Beethoven would and did. I could go to hear him play this every night.
The Beethoven provided the big news of the concert Thursday night, too: Noseda, 45, is a serious talent. At a time when managers and critics are lamenting the lack of conductors of music director caliber, someone needs to snap him up soon as he comes to the end of his run as chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, England. Long a protégé of Russian eminence Valery Gergiev, Noseda has absorbed some of his mentor's odder movement and podium methods. More important, though, he has learned how to use them to harness and shape appropriate sound with an orchestra. Even with reduced forces, Noseda's Beethoven accompaniment was strong, nuanced, and wholly of Beethoven's world and style. One can see why filmmaker Phil Grabsky used Noseda as such a central figure in last year's fine documentary, In Search of Beethoven.
The Finnish-born, Paris-based Saariaho, 57, has been picking up every big money award out there in the world of contemporary composition. As a woman from a small and distant land, bringing herself to the top ranks of her male-dominated field is a genuine achievement. There's no questioning her technical abilities and sense of detail and mass in an expansive 25-minute, three-movement work such as Orion. Her ability to pull the listener in and out of a shifting set of sound worlds, as if one were looking at the night sky unaided and then through the magnification of a telescope, is arresting. To my ears, though, her works with voices or solo instruments are more personal and attractive. Noseda guided a difficult score with real skill.
Rachmaninoff's First Symphony, in D minor, Op. 13, was composed in 1895 when its author was 22; it was abandoned two years later after a disastrous first performance conducted by a possibly inebriated Alexander Glazunov. The failure of this work so haunted the young composer that he went into a collapse for several years that required hypnotism and psychiatry to bring him around. He ultimately abandoned the work and his notes for it when he left Russia in late 1917; the manuscripts were not discovered until the end of World War II, in Leningrad, two years after Rachmaninoff's death in exile in Beverly Hills, a few days shy of 70.
It is always good to know how a composer -- or any artist -- started out. Clearly Noseda, who has recorded the work with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos, believes in the piece. The sprawling four-movement, 45-minute exercise was given a loving performance by conductor and orchestra, and one can hear where Rachmaninoff would go -- and would go quite soon -- as he matured in both his art and craft. But there's a lot else here that he would have to abandon -- including an almost endless and increasingly kitschy finale, complete with a gong -- before he could achieve some refinement and individual character.
Still, there are some great effects, some interesting "cells" of future works, a sense of struggle, and worse causes for a talented conductor to champion. Let's hope we can hear what else Noseda has up his sleeve soon.