All-Beethoven

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Program

  • Beethoven  Leonore Overture No. 3
  • Beethoven  Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Beethoven  Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)

At the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

This evening’s CSO program marks the second time in the past three seasons that music director Riccardo Muti has had to bow out of a scheduled performance of Beethoven’s legendary Eroica Symphony; Muti developed a case of the flu and was replaced for the duration of his present two-week engagement by Edo de Waart, currently music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.  Given the short notice on which he took up the program, de Waart led finely polished and alert performances that often lacked the last degree of dramatic intensity.

edeWaart
Edo deWaart

 

In spite of its name, the Leonore Overture No. 3 that opened the all-Beethoven program originated as Beethoven’s second attempt at writing an overture for his only opera, Fidelio; it wasn’t until his fourth try at writing the overture that he was satisfied.  Beethoven found that Leonore No. 3 was too dramatically overwhelming to serve as an opera overture, but this has made it a concert favorite.

The performance of Leonore in many ways set the tone for the whole evening.  The orchestra was in top form, and de Waart elicited a performance of precision and, with exceptionally transparent textures to boot.  Although it was not exactly short on energy, the approach was in the final analysis much more restrained than spontaneous; one often felt at climaxes that for all its power the orchestra could be giving more, and much of Beethoven, this piece included, benefits from strongly marked dynamic contrasts and a sense of completely committed intensity.  But even if de Waart was somewhat too direct, the piece certainly held together well and the execution was first-rate.

Romanian pianist Radu Lupu joined the orchestra for the next work on the program, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major.  This is an early work, actually the second of Beethoven’s published piano concertos; skillfully crafted and very much in the style of Mozart, it suffers somewhat from its relative lack of really striking or memorable melodic material – it lasts well over half an hour and does inevitably begin to outstay its welcome.  Lupu’s highly restrained approach, bordering on half-committed, didn’t help matters, although it was more compelling in the slow movement than in the outer allegros; however, the orchestral accompaniment was in some ways the highlight of the evening.  De Waart seemed most at home with this work’s gentler aesthetic and procured playing of great charm and flair.  He imbued the quiet passages in the slow movement with exceptional delicacy and atmosphere.  For some reason, though, here and even in the final part of the concert the fine balance that had marked the overture disappeared, with the violins often overpowering every other section.

Closing the concert was Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, the Eroica.  Program notes inevitably dwell on the work’s conception as a homage to Napoleon, followed by Beethoven’s revoking the dedication in rage upon learning that his hero had declared himself Emperor and thereby violated his supposed democratic principles.  Indeed, much of the music is as tense and exciting as its gestation might lead one to believe, but it is at the same time a sprawling work, at the time of its premier nearly twice as long as many of the symphonies that had preceded it.  This is a brilliant piece that is constantly bursting at the seams with inspiration, and it demands a conductor who can, among other things, sustain a high level of dramatic tension over its nearly 50-minute-long duration; it was in this regard, not surprisingly, that de Waart fell short.  It was a superlatively played performance from a technical viewpoint (with the exception of the same balance issues the concerto suffered from), precise and energetic; the second-movement funeral march, one of the landmarks of the symphonic literature, again featured much exquisite playing in soft passages; but there was some lack of sweep.  Climaxes, while not exactly limp, were not sufficiently explosive; the horns did not project the main theme of the first movement with the gusto it needs; as in the overture, there was a mild yet unmistakable sense of restraint where the music called for power, delicacy where it called for grit.  Perhaps the great focus on clarity of articulation came at the expense of spontaneity and dramatic build-up.

As exquisitely as the CSO played – and that playing lavished on the Eroica might be enough to recommend this program – none of the performances was quite what it could have been.  But the Eroica Symphony, at any rate, is not an easy piece to interpret, and to de Waart’s credit there was much to enjoy in its presentation.  And the restrained exuberance de Waart projects from the podium suggests that he will excel in the Mozart he is to lead as part of next week’s concerts, which I am now eagerly anticipating.

Recommended

Samuel Wigutow

Date Reviewed: January 10, 2013

Additional Dates for this Performance:

8:00 PM

Beethoven

Saturday, January 12, 2013

 and

7:30 PM
Beethoven
Tuesday, January 15, 2013