Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com, Friday November 9, 2012
CSO: Dutoit, Shaham in Britten, Walton and Beethoven
CSO mixed program review
with Charles Dutoit
and Gil Shaham, violin
Heard Thursday November 8, 2012
By Andrew Patner
The itinerant and highly experienced Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit is a guest
both regular and welcome at Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts.
With a two-week residency most years in recent times, Dutoit, 76, brings
eclectic and appealing programs, a wide range of interests and an ability to
draw attention to the music despite his highly unusual podium presence and
method. You would be hard pressed to find an upbeat indicating anything about
time signatures or section entries in his wiggly, full-body conducting yet he
offers performances of unusual clarity and focus.
Next week he goes all-Russian with works of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and
Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov. This week he offers two English works rarely heard
in the concert hall along with one of the most frequently programmed that is at
the center of the Austro-German repertoire. And he delivers his customary
Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra was a postwar
commission from the BBC for an educational film. Judging from the looks on the
faces of audience members it is widely remembered from recordings and children's
and school concerts but it's not often offered live for grown-ups. (It hadn't
been heard downtown on a subscription program since Georg Solti led it 34 years
Taking a brief theme from Britain's major 17th century composer Henry Purcell,
the then-32-year-old Britten created a 16-minute hop, skip and jump through the
various "families" of the orchestra from piccolo to percussion, all tied
together with an ingenious fugue with a return of the Purcell theme woven in.
Dutoit and the CSO absolutely made the case for this as adult fare and a great
showcase for this flexible, virtuosic orchestra.
Illinois native and Israeli violinist Gil Shaham is a welcome guest, too,
wherever he goes and his two decades of concertizing with the CSO have held a
string of shimmering pearls. He's been particularly interested in American and
British concertos of the 1930s of late and Thursday night he added that of
William Walton to those of Elgar, Korngold, and Barber. Shaham, a very youthful
41, gives any work his best and lets its best show and sound. He takes this
half-hour hodgepodge of a piece as far as anyone since its dedicatee and
commissioner, the legendary Jascha Heifetz.
It's still a bit screwy, though, written in southern Italy when the composer was
in his 30s and entangled with and supported by an older British countess. It
has a tarantella in the middle, outer sections heavily indebted to Prokofiev and
no slow movement. Although Dutoit also takes this piece around, this was
Shaham's performance, with the conductor seeming to play, um, second fiddle with
large swatches of beautifully orchestrated but rather inconsequential music.
Beethoven's A Major Seventh Symphony of 1811-12 is played so often that
calendars count its appearance at Orchestra Hall in spaces of months not years.
Still, it is as perfect and commanding as any work ever written and if Dutoit
made nothing new of it he didn't need to. As with former CSO music director
Daniel Barenboim, he reads the score as calling for a magnetic, non-stop ride
through all four movements and that is what he gave us. Perhaps preceding it
with the Walton was a reminder of just how hard it is to make a work so