Review: Chicago Symphony Displays Out-of-Character Modesty at Carnegie

Telling along the same lines was a trombone master class at Carnegie on Saturday morning, in which Mr. Friedman advocated compact tone (“try to make the sound smaller than the equipment wants it to be”) and differentiated articulation (“contrast is the key to style; evenness is the opposite of style.”). All this in good measure, of course, and the concerto soloists and the orchestra’s high brasses proved excellent models of moderation in both concerts.

Still, accidents happen, and the trumpets went momentarily but badly astray in the rising clamor at the end of Brahms’s Second Symphony on Saturday evening. That work — Brahms’s mellowest, least troubled symphony and hardly a blockbuster — was the biggest work on either program, and Mr. Muti, not always a convincing Brahmsian in earlier years, seems to have developed a greater affinity for the composer.


Standing from left, Mr. Muti, Jennifer Higdon, Jay Friedman and Gene Pokorny.

Todd Rosenberg

The Saturday program was filled out by Verdi’s “I Vespri Siciliani” Overture and another new work commissioned by the orchestra, Samuel Adams’s “many words of love.” The Adams work took its inspiration from Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise,” specifically a phrase from “Der Lindenbaum” (“The Linden Tree”): “On its bark I carved do many words of love.”

Not that you’d be likely to notice. Mr. Adams effectively buries the little melodic fragment in an extravagant, churning brew of live and digital sound whose main structural elements are extended, sometimes monumental, stepwise rises and falls. The program notes also mention a concern for “the ailing earth,” though here, too, you would not necessarily discover that concern without (even with) reading them.

Mr. Adams’s own note describes the work’s paradoxical qualities: “tonal but noisy, lyrical but austere, Schubert but not at all.” No argument here.

The other unhackneyed works in the slightly odd mix of Friday’s program were Stravinsky’s piquant “Scherzo Fantastique,” Chausson’s vocal-orchestral hybrid “Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer” (“Poem of Love and of the Sea”), and the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes.” The mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine was a superb soloist in the Chausson, richly sonorous and warmly expressive, and the pairing of that work with the Britten was striking.

Like the concerts themselves, the encores were anything but show-off-y: Giuseppe Martucci’s “Notturno” (Op. 70, No. 1), a longtime Muti favorite, on Friday and the B flat Intermezzo from Schubert’s incidental music for Helmina von Chézy’s play “Rosamunde” on Saturday.

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