Tuesday, February 10, 2015

1st Live Encounter with Beethoven's 5th (by the CSO) Puts Me on the 9th Cloud -- Chicago Classical Concert Review

Classical Music Review

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Songs by Schubert and Strauss
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Jaap van Zweden, Conductor
Matthias Goerne, Baritone
February 8, 2015
(Same program on Feb. 5 & 7)

Here's a piece of highly analytical, incisively astute and undoubtedly rather shocking arts criticism:

In performing perhaps the most famous composition in classical musical history, one of the world's greatest symphony orchestras sounded absolutely phenomenal. 

At least to my untrained ears. 

If you are looking for someone to assess whether on Sunday afternoon the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven's 5th Symphony as well as they or some other orchestra did at some other point in time, well, to quote a Bob Dylan song (perhaps only because Ludwig didn't write lyrics as far as I know):

"It ain't me, babe, it ain't me you're looking for, babe."

When it comes to classical music, I'm about as far from an expert as anyone who enjoys and appreciates the art form can get. 

The number of classical pieces for which I could convincingly name the composer upon hearing even the most notable segment would likely be countable on two hands. 

And even though Beethoven's 5th is one of those, thanks to its famed "dun-dun-duh-dunnn" opening, if you played me a random minute of the near 40-minute symphony, chances are good I would draw a blank.

That said, much of it is familiar enough--if only through osmosis--or at least aurally congruent to the initial refrain, that the entire work sounds glorious. 

So even though when it comes to classical music, I simply like what I like, even without knowing what I'm hearing--with full orchestra pieces with sonically-exciting (i.e. loud and fast) sections being the most overtly savory ear candy--the truth is that familiarity certainly breeds delight. 

Hence, even though some may think a major metropolitan orchestra performing Beethoven's 5th Symphony is analogous to a classic movie house showing Casablanca, an opera company staging La Bohème or a purveyor of jazz recordings promoting Kind of Blue, I have no problem embracing artistic creations that are uber-famous.

They usually are for good reason. 

And opportunities--or one's one election--to see or hear them aren't nearly as commonplace as one may think.

But though I had desirably noticed Beethoven's masterpiece on the CSO's schedule months ago, I must plead the 5th and admit that I didn't have a ticket until about 30 minutes before I left for Symphony Center on Sunday. (That convolution of cliché doesn't quite work, but just go with it.)

Matthias Goerne
In checking ticket availability in recent weeks, I found prices--even way up in the gallery--to be $75+, well beyond what I could justify, especially as I was already booked to see a play at Goodman Theatre on Sunday night. 

So as much as I wanted to hear Beethoven's 5th by the CSO, I didn't think I would. 

But sometime after Noon, I got a text from my friend Paolo, who had a pair of tickets for the 3pm performance, one of which became available at the last minute. 

After working out some logistics regarding getting to the play that evening with my mom, I happily was able to accept Paolo's gracious offer and get to the symphony matinee. 

And I'm obviously glad I did.

Rather than Music Director Riccardo Muti, who I still haven't seen conduct the CSO as illness forced him to miss a few performances I attended early in his reign, the scheduled conductor was Jaap van Zweden, a Dutchman who is music director of both the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Jaap van Zweden. Photo credit: Hans van der Woerd
I am pretty sure I will never really know or ascertain how much a conductor acutely affects during a performance. I once asked a non-CSO orchestra musician I met on a train and he said that while a given conductor can be pivotal in helping performers understand and prepare a piece ahead of time, and all the hand gestures do serve a definite purpose, the direct effect in real-time isn't all that great as the orchestra members generally know their parts and where they fit without seeing the cues.

But whatever Maestro van Zweden was supposed to do, it seems he did it very well. I have no reason to imagine what I heard would have been any better if led by Muti or anyone else.

Although Beethoven's 5th was clearly the main event, and promoted as such, the first half of the program was also rather enjoyable.

With acclaimed German baritone Matthias Goerne on vocals, van Zweden led the CSO through 11 brief songs either by Franz Schubert or Richard Strauss (see image at the top of this piece for the full list).

Other than in opera--and these weren't arias--I had never heard songs with lyrics/vocals in a classical music vein before. But while some pieces were more acutely pleasing than others and I don't think I'd have relished a full program of such songs, Goerne sounded terrific as did the orchestra.

Thus it made for an enjoyable opening half and nice accompaniment to Beethoven.

Still, when a young woman who was sitting next to me didn't return after intermission, I said incredulously to Paolo, "She left after the hors d'oeuvres???"

And what a main course to have missed; I'm delighted to have devoured it.

As I posted post-show on Facebook:
Hearing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play Beethoven's 5th Symphony is about as good as music gets, at least in classical form.
And now, in almost 900 more words, I have pretty much said the same thing. I probably could have just used one:

No comments: