Review: “Raw power” in Chicago Symphony festival program

Posted on: June 4, 2014

“Last month the Chicago Symphony Orchestra began ‘Truth to Power,’ a festival of 13 concerts offering music by Benjamin Britten, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, composers who, in the words of a program essay, showed ‘the ethics of survival, of playing it safe,’ ” writes Alan Artner in Sunday’s (6/1) Chicago Tribune. “Saturday night’s CSO concert at Orchestra Hall opened with Shostakovich’s Five Fragments, miniatures excised from politically problematical pieces and reworked, so to say, on purely musical ground. Conductor Jaap van Zweden, not known for relaxation, here relaxed persuasively in snippets (adding up to just nine minutes) that encapsulate both the composer’s jokiness and brooding…. This first CSO performance was fine-toned and expressive without being overheated. [In] Britten’s ‘Sinfonia da requiem’ … Van Zweden urged spirited playing not only when directives in the score called for it and a headlong rush where Britten wrote ‘Avanti!’ The performance had suitably piercing winds and a fiery vehemence but also, finally, sweetness of tone and tranquility. [In Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony] … Van Zweden suggested … a tense grandeur at the end of the first movement, a manic, mechanized playfulness throughout the second and fourth. But there were singing and dancing qualities, too, and those in addition to raw power got the audience cheering.” 

Posted June 4, 2014