deWaart Conducts Brahms – And Mutilates Mozart

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Waart Conducts Brahms – And Mutilates Mozart

 Program

–  Mozart, Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)

–  Brahms, Symphony No. 4

At Orchestra Hall, Chicago

On paper, the current CSO program, led by Edo de Waart (substituting again for Riccardo Muti), looked sure-fire: Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, the Jupiter, is arguably the greatest symphony of perhaps the greatest symphonist not named Beethoven; and a case could be made that Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 represents the height of the symphony after Beethoven’s death.  However, one would not necessarily register the stature of these great works, the Mozart in particular, from this evening’s often lifeless performances.

edeWaart
Edo de Waart

The grandeur and joy of the the first movement of the Jupiter Symphony lay utterly dormant under de Waart’s limp – and rather slow – direction.  The second movement, taken by contrast at a relatively rapid pace, showed somewhat more promise at first, but once it got underway the lack of any poignancy or attention to the marvelous detail abounding here became all too clear.  The orchestra simply sounded simply dead in the minuet, utterly devoid of buoyancy or a trace of dance or song; it managed to sound supremely sluggish even at a not-particularly-slow tempo.  The normally exhilarating finale brought no significant surprises, and although the brilliant coda (wherein Mozart in effortlessly combining the movement’s main thematic material demonstrates contrapuntal genius on the order of Bach) was lively and focused enough, it was too little, too late.

The greatly reduced size of the orchestra didn’t help matters.  I suppose it’s the fashion today for major orchestras, on the all-too-rare occasions on which they program Mozart, to use a diminished ensemble as a misguided nod to historical authenticity; in spite of the typically small orchestras of his time, Mozart claimed to be delighted at a rare occasion on which he heard a symphony of his played with a string section so large that the woodwind parts had to be doubled.  (This should come as no surprise to anyone who really loves this music, which is clearly grander and more symphonic in scale than the light chamber-esque works “authentic” period-performers can make them out to be.)  In any case, a group as small as the one heard in this Mozart performance simply doesn’t work in a large modern hall.  But even beyond this problem of acoustical scale and scope, it was the general lack of crispness or energy in the playing – notwithstanding a finely-shaped phrase here and there and an occasional moment of exuberance – that left me utterly unmoved by this great work.

The Brahms Fourth was not the disaster that the Mozart was, in part because the orchestra was restored to full size, which provided for a slightly more powerful sound.  De Waart also was not quite so torpid here, and was even at times quite stirring, but again there was something missing.  He seemed insensitive to the contrasts of mood in this work that is by turns tragic and melancholic, failing to dig in adequately when the music turns especially dark and missing the total sense of sweep in the music.  Although the CSO musicians played well, the horns tended to (as they sometimes do here under a conductor who hasn’t tamed them) drown out the strings, which in turn were neither rich in tone nor particularly incisive.  Ultimately, it was a perfectly acceptable yet somewhat bland performance that fell short of the great impact this piece can make.  And it would have taken a Brahms Fourth of great impact to successfully compensate for what de Waart did to the Mozart, so I would avoid the whole thing.  Stay home and listen to a decent recording of the Jupiter instead – to name just one, James Levine on an RCA CD gets an infinitely more lively and committed performance of it out of the CSO – if you want to get anything out of it, and that alone will guarantee you a more musically rewarding evening than you would have at the CSO this weekend.

Not recommended

Samuel Wigutow

Additional Dates for this Performance:

1:30 PM

Friday, January 18, 2013

and

8:00 PM

Saturday, January 19, 2013