Elder in Rare Dvořák and Welcome Sibelius

United StatesUnited States  Dvořák, Rachmaninov, Sibelius: Garrick Ohlsson (piano), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder (conductor), Symphony Center, Chicago. 15.2.2013 (JLZ)

Dvořák: The Water Goblin, Op. 107
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39

A welcome presence on the podium of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder has led the ensemble in periodic explorations of Dvořák, including the CSO premiere here of The Water Goblin, a late tone poem from 1896. Elder’s interpretation was stylistically persuasive, with excellent responses, especially from the strings, which give the piece its core sound. Unfortunately the low brass section was sometimes louder than necessary, yet Elder’s attention corrected this later, and shaped the conclusion effectively.

Following the tone poem, Garrick Ohlsson gave a brilliant performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. Ohlsson’s commanding stage presence was matched by his control and his intensity—especially in the compelling first movement. Rachmaninov’s tutti passages resounded fully, with Ohlsson meeting the volume of the orchestra and still allowing the piano’s line to emerge. A similar intensity informed the Intermezzo, with the chamber-music sonorities drawing the audience into the sophisticated interplay between soloist and orchestra. For the Finale, Elder and Ohlsson worked together even more closely, allowing the reprise of the first movement themes to resound clearly. Always in control, Ohlsson and the orchestra executed the final figure as if they were a single instrument.

With Sibelius’s First Symphony, the subtlety of Elder’s interpretation gave the familiar score welcome freshness, such as the clarity of the opening movement’s clarinet solo, which unfolded as if it were being composed on the spot. While the ensemble sometimes slackened and had some some weak entrances, the overall effect was strong. Problems were absent from the second movement, which evinced a welcome lyricism and warmth. The woodwinds gave some fine touches throughout, with a rich, blended sound. However, the Scherzo seemed overly fast, as some parts of the orchestra seemed to struggle to cleanly articulate the movement’s signature rhythm. Nevertheless, Elder gave a highly dramatic reading, and the brief pause before the Finale was welcome.

Clear timbres and intonation accuracy were among the virtues Elder coaxed out of hit reading, and the horns were particularly effective. The rich textures of the strings benefited from the support of the inner parts—particularly the full-voiced cellos. From start to finish, the Finale had a palpable shape, making one hope that this and other symphonies by Sibelius are played more frequently.


James L. Zychowicz