After stepping down as music director of the Chicago Symphony in 2006, Daniel Barenboim returned to the orchestra only once, as a guest conductor. in 2018. His deteriorating health in recent years led Barenboim to officially resign as general music director of the Staatsoper Berlin earlier this year; Christian Thielemann will replace him next season.
Given this, it was little surprise that Barenboim announced earlier this month that he was withdrawing from a North American tour with the band’s orchestra, the Staatskapelle, that included the Symphony Center. But it was definitely sad. It remains unclear when or if 81-year-old Barenboim will return to Chicago. It’s hard not to feel the weight of the long farewells this week, with Michael Tilson Thomas on the podium and leading rehearsals with the CSO following his own cancer diagnosis and a string of health-related cancellations.
Tuesday, farewell turned into a very wonderful meeting: Czech chef Jakub Hrůša, fresh off a triumphant run “Jenůfa” by Lyric He made his Staatskapelle debut, replacing Barenboim, who was himself a hot candidate for the CSO music directorship.
Turning to charges like the Brahms symphonies – double notes No. 3 and No. 1, in that order – is as close to the best-case scenario a bench conductor could hope for. But to make these familiar friends as utterly captivating as they were on Tuesday, overflowing with passion, creativity and melodic detail? Hrůša and Staatskapelle are certainly just beginning a long and fruitful partnership.
And it really was a partnership. Hrůša may have drawn the blueprint for this magnificent performance, but his height was that of the Staatskapelle. Their sound is padded and pastel, but supported by a solid clarity in the inner instrumental lines. And like theirs Berlin friends at the Philharmonic OrchestraThe Staatskapelle, which emerged here a year ago, do not put their complex personalities behind the scenes. The change of principal in the middle of the program underlined how confidently creative the Staatskapelle musicians are, a republic of soloists united by enthusiasm and commitment.
These are the emotions they carry on their sleeves, for better or worse. Smiles would sometimes catch the string players in the middle of a passage and undulate throughout their section, seemingly telepathically. Later, in Brahms’s first symphony, they were met with glares from colleagues in another section when a new trumpet line proved consistently incoherent. Comments from the audience as they left the hall confirmed this: the Staatskapelle perform as if you could hear their hearts. This shouldn’t be this rare.
The first movement of Brahms 3 immediately showed what this orchestra was capable of: sforzando attacks that excited the air and then sizzled, crescendos that seemed to swell with no end in sight. Tibor Reman enlivened the beginning of the tender-hearted Andante with a supple and sunny clarinet solo, and the Allegretto that followed was simply unique: a tapestry of silky sounds, violins moving in and out of the cello theme. There and in the first movement, quiet echoes of the melody passed through the ensemble like a dream.
The symphony didn’t quite fly away as the score promised – there was still something tight on Tuesday, harsh timpani mallets popping out in the final bars of the Allegro. He predicted that Symphony No. 1, which seems to have a harsher approach, would follow: First, this earlier work had shallower depths to examine. A more modest overall performance – fuzzier strings, more beige major turns – didn’t help the situation, but Hrůša’s catwalk style remained as straightforward and intuitive as ever.
But just as Brahms was first thought to have run away like the incompetent stepchild, a fourth move followed that scrambled the DNA; It was a move that promised to forever change the way one heard that great music and destroy the memory of all the flaws that preceded it. At the very beginning of the movement, Hrůša’s pickup seemed to reach all the way to the ceiling, twisting even further with the fierce fire of Stephan Möller’s timpani. Later, Hrůša’s deliberate rubatos in the symphony’s final round were more than satisfactory; It was comforting.
Karsten Hoffmann and Sebastian Posch played the horn duet passage to Allegro non troppo as if they were breathing in with their instruments rather than exhaling; bottomless, life-giving storms of sound. They were perfectly accompanied by a sparkling trombone choir, shifting from organ to growling in a dazzling and transcendent display throughout the evening.
Hrůša boldly congratulated each episode during a prolonged standing ovation; A sparkling Staatskapelle returned the favor with a stamping and waving salute. It’s clearly a question of when, not if, he’ll reunite with this orchestra. Lucky Berlin.
Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.
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