Monday, November 14, 2011

Solti protege conducts CSO probe of 20th Century Masters

Solti protégé conducts CSO probe of early 20th Century Masters

By Dwight Casimere

Conductor Stephane Deneve photo by Drew Farrell

Leonadis Kavakos photo

© Nicolas Brodard

It’s hard to believe that music of the early 20th century is now a part of history and that the world’s major symphony orchestras are now involved in archival explorations of the music of that period, as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra continues its own one-hundred year retrospective.

Maurice Ravel conducted his musical portrait, Suite No. 2 from Daphnis and Chloe with the Chicago Symphony in 1928 as part of his whirlwind international tour. Originally commissioned as ballet music for the legendary Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, with the great Nijinsky as principal dancer and Pierre Monteux, who was later credited with molding both the San Francisco and Boston Symphony Orchestras.

Suite No. 2 opens with Daybreak. As written by Ravel, it is considered the most musically graphic and captivating depiction of the sounds of nature in its rustling awakenings. Ravel’s use of tonal color and dynamic variation is masterful. All of the instruments of the orchestra are used to create various shades of sound that reflect tonally like rays of light off the facets of diamonds.

All of the musicians responded with one of the most incandescent readings in this reviewer’s memory. Particularly so, the solo work of Principal Flute Mathieu Dufour.

Guest Conductor Stephane Deneve, a protégé of the late, legendary CSO Music Director Sir Georg Solti, brought much of his mentor’s sensibility to the podium when he conducted the recent subscription series program of the Ravel Suite, preceded by The Spider’s Feast, Symphonic Fragments by Ravel’s French contemporary Albert Roussel and Sergei Prokofiev’s Suite from the opera, The Love of Three Oranges, and his stunning Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor played by the dazzling young Athens-born violin sensation, Leonidas Kavakos.

Kavakos, winner of both the Sibelius and Paganini competitions, caused his Abergavenny Stradivarius to literally sing through the complex maze of pizzicato triplets that dominates the bombastic finale. Castanets, cymbals and snare drums accompanied by blazing trumpets soared in the background, but Kavakos’ ringing violin dominated the assemblage throughout the thundering conclusion.

Prokofiev’s Suite from The Love of Three Oranges similarly displayed the CSO’s virtuosity with showy, percussion and brass-heavy compositions. Conductor Deneve mined the extraordinary talents of the orchestra’s superior Brass and Percussion sections to achieve a searing performance that was full throttle from beginning to end. Principal Trumpet Christopher Martin made a commanding declaration of the symphony’s Main Theme. Principal Tuba Gene Pokorny and Trombone Jay Friedman provided urgent punctuation throughout.

Devene is quite an athletic conductor, with sweeping arcs for arm movements. So involved was he at one point in the finale, he nearly seemed to levitate off the podium. His massive mane of honey-blond hair also seemed to get into the act, Dudamel-style, with its own set of rhythmic movements.

Semyon Bychkov conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program featuring Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and the luminous Labeque sisters in Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos Thursday and Friday, Nov. 17 & 18 at 8pm and Sun. Nov. 20 at 3pm. For tickets and information, visit

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