Koopman Conducts 18th Century Works in Chicago

United StatesUnited States  Haydn, Locatelli, Rebel, Mozart: Narek Hakhnazaryan (cello), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ton Koopman (conductor), Symphony Center, Chicago, 12.5.2012 (JLZ)

Haydn: Symphony No. 6 in D Major “Le matin”
: Cello Concerto in D Major, Hob. VIIb:2
: Introduttione teatrale in G Major, Op. 4, No. 4
: “Chaos” from Les elements
: Symphony No. 20 in D Major, K. 133

Music from the eighteenth century, in a well-selected program conducted by the internationally known conductor Ton Koopman, is a departure for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. On the first half, devoted to Haydn, Symphony No. 6 “Le Matin” (1761) was engaging, with Koopman attentive to many details and offering exemplary phrasing; as just one example, he used contrast to create appropriate drama between the introduction to the first movement and what followed. As familiar as this work may be, Koopman brought a sense of immediacy to a note-perfect performance.

A similar sense of excitement was part of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major (1783), a stalwart part of the cello literature, which featured the young cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan. His impeccable technique was supported by Koopman’s accompaniment in a fluid reading—the passages flowing as if the cellist were improvising with the orchestra. In the first movement, the cadenzas were rendered with drama and consummate technique. Yet the slow movement, with its contrasting tone, was memorable for its thoughtful lyricism and understatement. The extroverted Rondo-Finale was similarly commanding as Hakhnazaryan demonstrated his virtuosity. And after several rounds of applause for the soloist, conductor, and orchestra, it was a pleasure to experience an improvised encore.

The second half was equally compelling, starting with Locatelli’s Introduttione teatrale in G Major (ca. 1735), which resembles a nineteenth-century concerto-overture. Here the use of a continuo group gave a sense of the Baroque elements in Locatelli’s style, while the string writing offered a sense of the voice that composers later in the eighteenth century would explore further. The concluding syncopated passages were fresh and exciting, helped by a well-played continuo. All in all, Koopman gave the piece shape and color—a deft performance. Similarly unfamiliar, Rebel’s “Chaos” movement from his Élements (1737) gave a sense of the forward- looking and experimental style some early eighteenth-century works evince, with dissonant intervals and irregular rhythms.

This set the stage for Mozart’s Symphony No. 20 (1772) in its CSO premiere. This colorful piece contains a sense of elements Mozart would explore in later works, with the woodwind timbres contrasting the strings. Like Haydn’s Symphony no. 6, the weight of the work is on the outer movements, which received masterful treatment here. The brass deployed period-style approaches to articulation and Koopman rendered the balance with seeming ease, ultimately making this one of the CSO’s finest programs this season.

James L. Zychowicz

International audiences may want to look out for this concert on WFMT (or on iTunes), which broadcasts recent CSO programming on Sunday afternoons.