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Chicago Symphony Orchestra Review – Haydn, Martinů, Scriabin at the Flawless CSO Standard

By Amy Munice

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When Maestro Muti turned to the prematurely clapping audience near the finale of the afternoon’s concert with an avuncular scolding glance, we could guess that we were in for the treat of Muti mots that would make us smile.  Indeed, two finale chords and four standing ovations later the Maestro did not disappoint.  He said, paraphrasing a bit, “It was Scriabin’s ‘Divine Poem’ and you don’t get to heaven in a hurry.”


With Muti’s baton at work all music is clearly joy. 



That is what we hear said when we go to small chamber events featuring CSO musicians who share how Muti brings out the best in the orchestra. 



It’s particularly noteworthy that this fun-powered excellence is at work whether the orchestra is playing classical Haydn, a rare oboe concerto by Czech composer Martinů or Scriabin’s Symphony No. 3.  



The concert began with the majestic and regal Haydn symphony “Maria Theresa”, so nicknamed for the Austrian Empress on the occasion of her visiting the estate of Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy.   Reportedly Haydn and the orchestra were attired in Chinese costumes to match the prince’s Chinese-style pavilion.   With much crisp brass heraldry and horn flourishes in this piece for a smaller orchestra, it is quite easy to picture the composer aiming for a composition with regal bearing as the name suggests.   Whether it was the Maestro’s intention or not, the pomp and circumstance of the piece did serve as a stimulant for the concert en toto.



Next up was Martinů’s oboe concerto, played masterfully by the CSO’s principal oboist, Eugene Isotov.  This work should give pause to anyone who dares to equate school dropouts or homelessness with failure.  The composer of this concerto had suffered both of these personal setbacks, the latter due to the Nazi’s classification of him as connected to the Czech resistance.



If one attends the CSO with any regularity you will likely crave to hear more oboe solos, given how important this instrument is to carrying melodies in such a wide swathe of compositions.  It was therefore a special delight to see the principal oboist given full range to his talent.


This work also was also scored for a small orchestra and has the feel of a chamber music recital throughout.  This concerto seems to be composed to show-off the emotional and musical range of the oboe, and Isotov’s more than delivered.   If anything we are left wanting to hear those outer reaches of the oboe—the near squeaks and the squawks that color many a new music score today and that this forebear concerto omitted.



After intermission a larger orchestra then played Alexander Scriabin’s Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 43, also known as “The Divine Poem”.   From the program notes we learn that this was Scriabin’s longest work and the first to be called a poem, “signaling the shift from abstract symphony to a new, unnameable kind of music, and to use French as the language of its abundant expressive markings…”



Scriabin was reportedly very focused on musical “color”, in part from the influence of his fellow contemporary musician Rimsky-Korsakov.  


This symphony has three linked movements with unpredictable rhythms. The program in fact notes that this was perhaps the harbinger of an entirely new and unique musical language that would have changed the course of musical history, if Scriabin had lived longer.


As with all CSO events, we leave and walk homewards with a lighter step, buoyed by what we heard.



Photos: Todd Rosenberg

Published on Jun 10, 2013

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