Petrenko Conducts CSO Review – Captivating Program Warms Arctic Chill


It was no wonder than so many seats were empty in Symphony Center when Vasily Petrenko took up his baton to conduct the CSO.   With wind chill it was far below zero.  With snow flurries car commutes took double the time of norm.  This was a night meant for storied gatherings near fireplace and hearth.


Yet there was much to miss in the program, which richly rewarded all who braved the elements.  The works of three composers—Elgar, Beethoven, and Rachmaninov—had in common that these were each works writ large with much complexity to savor.



Elgar’s “In the South” (Alassio), Op. 50 was composed during a sojourn he had made to Mediterranean Italy to escape cold English winters.  Described more as tone poem, this was Elgar’s lamentation on how the soothing landscape had once been a Roman battleground. 



Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” followed, a much performed piece because it never fails to captivate, especially when a soloist like Paul Lewis is at the keyboard. 



Memorably, at one point the entire orchestra had their instruments at rest and Lewis sat motionless save his few fingers on one hand moving to play the melody at the high register of the piano.  Then the orchestra swooped in to take over.  It was exquisite and a wonder why we did not hear gasps of delight from the audience. Lewis received three standing ovations and many “Bravo” call outs.  In a word, he was flawless.  Though this concerto has  been recorded by the CSO six times, you could not help but feel that you’d want to re-play Lewis with the orchestra again and again on a seventh CD.



Finally, Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances”, his final work and one that drew from his first symphony as well as oft-quoted references to the Gregorian melody of Dies irae from the Mass for the Dead.  It was a shame that many had left in the intermission before this piece, no doubt to avoid snow drifts en route home, because the dramatic sweeps of this work truly thrilled.



Throughout the evening, youthful Conductor Vasily Petrenko was mesmerizing to watch.   With his long fingers at times making it seem like he wielded two batons, we felt more than usual how he held the orchestra closely to his feeling for each piece, with his head sometimes shaking to the beat and his body reaching forward to bring one or another section of the orchestra in or out.  



Take note to keep a watch out for future performances under Petrenko’s baton.  He’s fun to watch and the orchestra certainly shines under his baton, although it is always difficult to name a time when the CSO disappoints.


The 2015 CSO season at Symphony Center continues through June.


For tickets and information call 312 – 294 – 3000 or visit the CSO website. 




Images and photos courtesy of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, unless otherwise indicated.





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