Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Saturday at Symphony Center (reprise)

Boulez, CSO tour Mahler's No. 7
Symphony gets musical analysis that is a joy

I warned you there would be another concert post, didn't I?

Saturday night we again trekked downtown for a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert, this time to hear them play Mahler's 7th Symphony. Spry 81-year-old Pierre Boulez took the podium for the first time as Conductor Emeritus, an odd title for a man who appears as vital as anyone else we've seen conduct, including the much younger Jarvi last week.

Before the music, I must comment on the surroundings. Last week we sat way up in the gallery, four rows from the front and miles from the actual players. This week our seats were much closer--we were in the front row of the upper balcony, which is three feet behind the last row of the lower balcony but quite a bit cheaper. You'd think this was a bargain, right?

You'd be wrong. The upper balcony has everything going against it but the price. The overhang, which my concert companion hates for the way it obstructs the sound, was not much of a factor where we sat in that regard, but it definitely did something to the circulation. After last week's airy, comfortable experience in the gallery--where the warm air, by rights, should rise up to heat you--this week's cramped, stuffy, and just plain hot experience in the balcony caught me by surprise. The burly fellow next to me actually removed his sweater and listened to the concert in a theme T-shirt, and by the end I must admit I was jealous.

Despite these impediments, it was a fantastic concert. Many consider the 7th Mahler's weakest symphony, but you have to give him credit--he brings it in the end, something that cannot be said for some of the others (4 and 9, I'm looking at you). Boulez can be chilly as a conductor, delivering clean readings that leave out some of the emotion others find in a score--but I'll take that over the sort of messy reading a Barenboim can deliver, as evidenced by his insanity inducing 5th last spring. Boulez's internal movements were pretty, and the first and last were rousing and raucous, just as they should be, taking full advantage of the CSO's powerful brass without losing control of the line of the music. (If you want to hear for yourself, they're playing it again tonight.)

Now the waiting begins; we don't go back until May for Bruckner 7, followed in rapid succession at Ravinia by Mahler 5 and 6. Any concert suggestions?


James said...

You mean there's no concert where they play Mahler 2?! Ak!

Richard said...

Mahler 2 was played during the summer of 2005 at Ravinia. (James Conlon is leading the CSO in a complete Mahler cycle over four or five summers. We've been to every performance so far.) The CSO also played it under Michael Tilson Thomas during last season at Orchestra Hall...so it may be a little while before it's played again.