BWW Review: CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA IN SAN DIEGO at the Jacobs Music Center
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is thought by many to be the best in the United States and among the top five in the world. The orchestra's performance at San Diego's Jacob's Music Center provided absolutely no support for a contrary view. The program consisted of Schubert's "Unfinished" eighth symphony, the Mozart clarinet concerto and Schumann's second symphony.
The "Unfinished", in two rather than the usual four movements, is the most familiar of Schubert's nine symphonies. There are several theories about why the composer sketched at least three movements but completed only two. Some believe he decided the two were so perfect, there was no need for more. A lovely romantic theory, but I doubt it's true. In any event, swelling climaxes, the beautiful second subject of the first movement, and the woodwind and horn solos of the slower second movement readily established the excellence of the Chicago musicians. The stage was crowded with more strings than usual for both symphonies, yet every line in potentially muddy textures emerged with pristine clarity thanks to precise intonation and masterful management of dynamics by conductor Riccardo Muti.
The orchestra was substantially smaller for the following Mozart concerto. Chicago's principal clarinetist Stephen Williamson was the soloist, and his heartfelt
performance of the slow middle movement was one of the concert's highlights. He chose very quick tempos for the contrasting outer movements. Virtuosic passages had him dipping, bobbing and weaving in quite a contrast to Maestro Muti's sedate economy of motion as he and the orchestra kept pace. It was engaging and enjoyable to both see and hear.
Robert Schumann's second was written during one of the many down periods in the life of the quite possibly bipolar composer, but it is the most optimistic and heroic of his four symphonies. Muti's performance offered substantial additional proof of just how good his orchestra is. Trumpet calls, horn solos and powerful climaxes showed why the brass section is universally praised. The gorgeous melodies for strings in the third movement went from pure, barely audible ethereal beauty to lush fullness. Woodwind solos were perfect.
Muti's careful attention to every nuance of the three scores never stifled the music's passion, or the impact of its most pleasurable moments. Every section and soloist was superb, and Muti's interpretations were flawless.
Although I can't image better performances, I do believe the evening would have been more memorable had the program ventured beyond familiar masterpieces from the Classical era. Schumann's symphony, published in 1847, was the most recent work. The orchestra's proficiency was obvious throughout the concert, but my reaction was one of pleasurable admiration rather than excitement. A piece from the Romantic or modern eras could have been included to spice the mix. Bartok's spectacular Concerto for Orchestra is one that comes to mind. Chicago conductor Fritz Reiner and violinist Joseph Szigeti persuaded conductor Serge Koussevitsky to commission Bartok to write the piece, and Reiner's 1955 recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra remains the one to beat.
Whatever my reservations about the program, I have none when it comes to being grateful to the La Jolla Music Society for bringing the world's greatest orchestras to San Diego, and to Joan and Irwin Jacobs for sponsoring the concert. The Music Society is just one of many organizations the generous couple support. Their donation, which remains the largest ever received by a symphony orchestra, has been a key factor in the San Diego Symphony's vast improvement in quality over the last decade. The Qualcomm founder and his wife were at the concert as part of Mr. Jacobs' birthday celebration. When that was announced, he received a very enthusiastic, and well-deserved, round of applause.
The La Jolla music Society 2017-18 season has just begun. To find out what else is on the schedule, visit LJMS.
Photos by Todd Rosenberg Photography.