On February 14, 2019, in a program to be repeated February 16 and 17, Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, Principal Guest Conductor of Teatro Real in Madrid and Musical America’s 2014 Conductor of the Year, led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Macedonian classical pianist Simon Trpčeski in a potent program of stunningly executed Russian masterworks at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago.
– Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30, 1909
In 2009, Trpčeski recorded Rachmaninov’s 2nd and 3rd for Avie with Conductor Vasily Petrenko and the Royal London Philharmonic; it was very well received, the pianist has continued to perform/record Rachmaninov, winning much acclaim. This night, he launched the Concerto with intense emotionality, the famous “Russian hymn” theme commencing and immediately repeated by the violas. The piano phrasing then became infinitely more complex, evolving into a cadenza and a new theme. The piano enters into a dialogue with the Orchestra, the second theme sings elaborately, and the “Russian hymn” returns. Ultimately, the tempo leaps forward, and the entire Orchestra is engaged. The main cadenza is asserted, Trpčeski playing with an assured command, demonstrating a fine balance between precision and expression. Finally, both themes are re-introduced, in a thrilling performance of the most original formal design of this piece.
The second movement Intermezzo opens with a sensitively wrought orchestral introduction presented by the CSO woodwinds and strings in turn, which is then taken over by intense solo piano playing. This segues through a vivid reappearance of the “Russian hymn” by the clarinet and bassoon, before the Intermezzo melody reenters and leads to the finale. The last movement has a number of themes, sharply rhythmic and yet expansively melodic, filled with vibrant variations on material from the first movement.
It has been said that this pianist “was born to perform this music”. It was most exciting to watch him virtually propelled off the bench by the enormous force of his fingers and arms! The Orchestra, working alongside, produced a warm, fulfilling sound throughout that brought the piece to a solemn yet jubilant ending.
– Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 13 (Winter Dreams), 1866, 1874
The First Symphony was named “Winter Dreams” by the composer, who also named two of the symphony’s movements in the printed edition of the score; he called the first “Dreams of a Winter Journey”, the second “Desolate Land, Land of Mists.” However, while a wintry mood certainly was one evoked by the G minor Symphony- especially on such a cold night in Chicago- the slow movement is lovely and fresh, not desolate or hopeless!
Indeed, under the baton of Heras-Casado, the CSO infused a lilting freshness throughout the entire symphony, a directness of expression from the Orchestra that is apparent from the opening theme of the Allegro tranquillo, first introduced by solo flute and bassoon, and followed by an assertive and vigorous transitional theme.
The second movement grows from a rich, sentimental oboe solo over deliberately muted strings to a highly emotional peak with the full Orchestra, before the movement returns to the opening- almost melancholy- mood. The scherzo gives a piquant turn, encapsulating a lilting waltz, a harbinger of Tchaikovsky’s later ballet scores.
The finale introduces a wave of sound that takes the listener through a world of tones and colors, transformations of thematic material and melodic developments. Disarmingly, charmingly “loose” in feel, it formed a satisfying ending to this beautifully realized piece.
Heras-Casado has been called “magnetic and vivid”. He is an exceptionally dynamic force at the podium, using strongly enunciated arm movements, seemingly put into force by the action of his entire person. The great Orchestra, fresh from a wildly successful Asian tour and at the top of it’s game, responded to the physicality, demonstrating exquisite control in meeting every challenge of the evening.
In other news, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians held a press conference earlier in the day related to current contact negotiations. It was announced in a press release by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) that the current contract between the CSO and the CSOA has been extended to March 10, 2019 “to explore and discuss an alternative structure for comparable musician retirement benefits”. Both parties are working diligently toward a mutually beneficial agreement for sustaining Chicago’s- and the world’s- cultural gem.
For information and tickets to all the wonderful programming of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org