Saturday, November 2, 2013

Concert Review: Haitink and Ax (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

Last night I attended my first Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert of the season. The program was titled "Haitink and Ax," featuring conductor Bernard Haitink leading the CSO (of which he was principal conductor from 2006-2010) in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27, with Emanuel Ax on piano, and Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 (Romantic). I was joined by my friend Allison Althoff, who, despite living in Chicago for over six years, had never been to a CSO concert. And we had a good one for my first of the season and her first ever!

The first half was the Mozart concerto. It was my first time hearing Ax in performance, though I of course knew him by reputation. I have to admit: the performance was not anything extraordinary, in my opinion. Ax performed with appropriate sensitivity, and the interaction between the solo piano and the smaller orchestra (flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and reduced strings) was pleasing. All that to say, it was a fine performance, but it did not blow me away.

The second half, by contrast, now that did blow me away. When Allison and I returned from the lobby after intermission, there were considerably more musicians on the stage - including the full CSO brass corps. And did they earn their money with this performance! Haitink unleashed the full power of the entire orchestra on the Romantic Symphony, masterfully unfolding each movement's themes and bringing them all together in four spectacular climaxes (I exchanged glances with Allison at the end of just the first movement, and her jaw had dropped), with the soaring conclusion to the final movement drawing the audience almost immediately to its feet in a well-deserved standing ovation. I generally wait until the conductor returns to acknowledge individuals to stand and applaud (you can only rise to your feet once, and I like to save it for one of the soloists or sections), but I stood right away last night.

Bravo, Maestro Haitink and Chicago Symphony Orchestra!

For more thoughts, see the reviews from Lawrence A. Johnson at Chicago Classical Review, Andrew Patner at the Chicago Sun Times, and John Von Rhein at the Chicago Tribune.

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