Pinnock Brings a Scotch Snap to Chicago

United StatesUnited States  Debussy, Beethoven, Mendelssohn: Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano), Stefan Jackiw (violin), Pavel Gomziako (cello), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Trevor Pinnock (conductor), Symphony Center, Chicago, 8.6.2012 (JLZ)

Debussy: Marche écossaise
: Concerto in C Major for Piano, Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 56
: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 (“Scottish”)

In his second visit to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and as part of the “Keys to the City” festival focusing on piano, Trevor Pinnock used Beethoven’s Triple Concerto as the centerpiece, with soloists Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano), Stefan Jackiw (violin) and Pavel Gomziako (cello). The three young performers were intense in their solo passages, but were not consistently audible when with the ensemble (which was not always entirely together, and the basses were sometimes overly loud). Some problems existed with intonation and, at times, stylistic consistency. Nevertheless, overall, the reading was passionate and effective, and the CSO created a firm foundation. At times, the basses suggested a Baroque continuo, a sense only heightened by the work’s affinities with a concerto grosso.

The impressive first movement elicited applause after the exposition, an awkward moment that Pinnock handled well by continuing without noting it. As the movement progressed, the soloists seemed more expressive, especially Bezuidenhout. Jackiw was impressive with his fine sense of pitch and clear rendering of the musical lines, and Gomziako brought a fluid reading to the cello part, even though (in contrast to Jackiw) some passages were blurred. Yet the three soloists coalesced well in the middle movement, which gave the sense of a chamber ensemble supported discreetly by the orchestra. Pinnock led the finale with polish and exuberance, coaxing rich sonorities from the orchestra, and encouraging exquisite timing among the soloists.

Pinnock framed the concerto with pieces inspired by impressions of Scotland. Debussy’s youthful Marce ecossaise is a tripartite work, with the outer sections redolent of musical ideas usually associated with Scottish settings. The “Scotch snaps,” drone-like figures, and other elements of local color were well-executed, while in contrast, the idyllic middle section conveyed the impressionist idiom the composer would explore more fully in his maturity.

Rarely performed, Debussy’s piece served as a counterpart to Mendelssohn’s sustained images of Scotland in his Third Symphony. Here Pinnock stood out, especially in his well-structured first movement, and overall, the architecture was evident, but never at the expense of expression. With the second movement, the relatively brief Scherzo, Pinnock’s lithe approach was equally impressive. The slow movement’s contrasting moods were distinct, held together by Pinnock’s apt phrasing, followed by a persuasive reading of the Finale.

While some commentators fault the movement, compositionally speaking, because of the new theme that occurs near the conclusion, it was difficult to criticize here, since Pinnock made the idea work. All sections of the orchestra were at their best, especially the exemplary horns. As familiar as this symphony may be, Pinnock delivered a fresh, engaging reading, paying attention to the orchestral subtleties. 

James L. Zychowicz