Chicago Symphony Orchestra — Second evening in Hong Kong

CSO in Hong KongThe lively, octogenarian Lorin Maazel continues to command the mighty Chicago Symphony Orchestra, making some surprisingly different result to the music.

He continues to devote a lot of attention to the musical details. We still hear polished long phrases, especially effective in the lively Italian Symphony of Felix Mendelssohn. We hear carefully balanced layers of melodies in the beginning of Eroica Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. We hear careful crescendo over modulating bass phrases over the development in the first movement of Eroica and an outburst of trumpets reserved only at the glorious recapitulation.

It is especially a relief to hear, however, a vivid tempo in the concert opener, Giuseppe Verdi’s I vespri siciliani overture.

We complain a lot on unimaginative concert programming. Brahms the second is a repeat of last year in the same festival, while Beethoven the third is heard just half a year ago in the same hall. However, when these oft-heard works are played in a not-often-heard extreme that contests the sound on our brain, the displeasure can be knee-jerk immediate.

I keep questioning myself if yesterday’s very slow Mozart and a really slow Brahms fall out from my comfort zone and I disconnect. My answer to self is there are extreme Brahmses that I enjoy a lot (allow me to name Sergiu Celibidache). Tempo should not be the only factor that affects appreciation of a performance. However, the livelier tempo does make a difference to the enjoyment of the three works.

In a way, the music sounds more assertive, when there were some apparent guessing moments last night. And I think that this assertiveness makes this a totally different evening.

Tonight there is one possibility of making extreme: the marcia funebre of Eroica Symphony can be extremely slow in the fashion of what Mr. Maazel did last night. I am in fact a bit disappointed that Mr. Maazel has not done that, but to start the movement with a rather moderate tempo. However, Mr. Maazel makes a gradual ritardando over the course of the entire second movement, having the music slowed down rather dramatically at the end. The same deceleration happens again in the finale, during the quiet suspension before the triumphant E-flat major sets in again to bring the symphony a swift close.

At 54 minutes of total playing time, this Eroica tends to be slow as well. But it is making sense to me on how the music is laid out.

The orchestra performs an encore heard last night: the Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin.

One tremendous surprise to me is the alleged use of pitches outside the prescribed C and G of the timpani in Eroica‘s second movement. It can be an aural illusion when the timpani is mistaken by the loud basses. However it happens not once but twice, including in one place where timpani should not be playing (bar 126). Another musician friend next to me also notices this, and it may suggest that it is not my aural mirage.

I have written about last night’s performance here.

Photo: © Todd Rosenberg at Instagram

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