An Eclectic Concert from Chicago

United StatesUnited States J. Strauss, Beethoven, Dvořák: Till Fellner (piano), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck (conductor). Symphony Center (Chicago), 21.1.2012 (JLZ)

J. Strauss:  Overture to Die Fledermaus
:  Piano Concerto No. 1
:  Symphony No. 8

In this eclectic program led by Manfred Honeck, the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 stands out for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s style and finesse. Returning soloist Till Fellner demonstrated technical skill and interpretive depth in this venerable piece and was impressive from the start, with a first movement that was exemplary in execution. Within the clearly articulated exposition themes, Fellner shone mightily, adding bravura touches. In the second movement, his rich tone brought out the implicit lyricism, and his intensity was reflected by Honeck’s support with the orchestra. The Finale’s playful character provided requisite contrast, and in the coda, despite its familiarity, Fellner’s phrasing and pacing were extremely effective.

Honeck gave a similarly strong performance of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony (the “old” fourth of the composer’s published symphonies), which has strong associations with the city of Chicago: the composer himself conducted the work’s premiere at the World Columbian Exposition on August 12, 1893. Here Honeck’s momentum held the audience’s attention from the first measure to the last. The first movement was impressive for its audibly cogent structure, and the second movement was notable for its mélange of colors. The lyrical results were as captivating as some of the passages in Dvořák’s operas. After a light, delicate Scherzo, Honeck began the Finale a bit tentatively, but he and the ensemble gained momentum. Overall, the entire performance was a credit to both the orchestra and to Honeck’s direction, and the audience gave the performers a deservedly extended ovation.

Honeck opened with Johann Strauss’s Overture to Die Fledermaus in a reading that clearly showed the details – details sometimes overlooked in the opera house. The composer’s lightness and buoyancy set the tone for the entire evening.


James L. Zychowicz