"López-Cobos/Barnatan" Review- The Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents Turina, Gershwin and Dvořák

On May 25th, 2017, in a concert program to be repeated May 27th, and May 30th, Conductor Jesús López-Cobos with guest pianist Inon Barnatan led The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a diverse and captivating program, featuring one composition of Joaquín Turina, one by Antonin Dvořák, and 2 by George Gershwin, including a solo piano encore.


Spanish-born López-Cobos, currently Conductor Emeritus of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, has had a long and illustrious career “which has taken him to centers of music around the world”.


Conductor Jesús López-Cobos; photo by Georges Braunschweig

Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, currently the first Artist-In-Association of the New York Philharmonic, is celebrated for his unique approach to a broad range of music. Making his debut here with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, his performance was utterly immersive. He commented to “CSO Sounds and Stories” that the Gershwin Concerto “needs the fusion of classical and jazz to work successfully. It’s so much fun for me to explore that because I’m a big jazz fan”.


Turina’s “Danzas Fantásticas”,  (Fantastic Dances), Op. 22, 1919, is his best known work, originally composed for solo piano and then orchestrated. The work clearly is inspired by the composer’s native Andalusian music as well as from a 1919 novella by Sevillian author José Más y Laglera.  The first dance, “Exaltación”, (Exaltation), is said to be a paean to the exuberant and lively jota, fading into the romantic strains of “Ensueño” (Reverie), then becoming impassioned again with “Orgía” (Orgy). The music is overtly dramatic but tempered with resplendant majesty.

Pianist Inon Barnatan; photo courtesy of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra


George Gershwin himself was the soloist in the first Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance, in 1933, of his “Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra”, 1925. On May 25th, it was played with brilliant panache by Inon Barnatan with the Chicago Symphony; one can well understand the pianist’s accolades for intellectual capacity. The concerto is infused with a quintessentially American sensibility; it is open, experimental, still fresh and new. It is shot through with Gershwin’s urbanity; he took impressions from the social lexicon and transformed them into graceful forms. The piece is  nuanced and bluesy as well as filled with characteristic harmony and style. Of course there is a profound jazzy and spontaneous feeling superimposed upon the underlying classical structure- this is Gershwin! Early critics wrote about the concerto's “inexhaustible verve” and “the fascination of it’s flowing melodies”. The captivating modulations of the primary theme accomplished by orchestra and piano were invigorating, the fast-paced outer movements excitingly rhythmic, the bluesy second movement lyrically pretty.

Jesús López-Cobos; photo by Georges Braunschweig


In encore, Barnatan played a sensitive and subtly superior rendition of Gershwin’s jazz flavored “Prelude No. 2 in C-sharp minor”, 1926. It was a pleasure to watch his cross-handed technique in this work, with it’s key, tempo and thematic changes stylistically bound together. Referred to by Gershwin as “a sort of blues lullaby”, it’s a sophisticated and dreamy smoothly atmospheric piece.


 Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 6 in D Major”, Op. 60, 1880, a 40 minute 4-movement piece, began with an unusually engaging and perfectly balanced horn/string arc. López-Cabos controlled the pace of the CSO in this spirited and forceful work filled with delicacy, exuberance and warmth. The woodwinds were particularly outstanding in the long first-movement exposition repeat, and as the symphony develops, the tempo dynamics were very skillfully rendered. This was a lively and vibrant presentation, and also well measured and detailed.

Inon Barnatan at the piano; photo courtesy of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra


For information and tickets to all the great programming by The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to the CSO website







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