Weilerstein Excels in New Dusapin Concerto

United StatesUnited States Ibert, Dusapin, and Holst: Alisa Weilerstein (cello), Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus / Cristian Măcelaru (conductor). Symphony Center Chicago, 28.5.2016. (JLZ)

Ibert: Bacchanale

Dusapin: Outscape (world premiere)

Holst: The Planets

As much as Jacques Ibert is familiar for some of his lighter music, his 1956 Bacchanale is significant for its integration of jazz elements within a conventionally classical framework. The piece, which opened this unusual program by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, features the brass evoking a blues style which echoes, to a degree, the jazz-infused middle movement of Ravel’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. As an apotheosis of the bacchanals associated with opera, it set the tone for the evening, with guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru giving an incisive reading.

Măcelaru also gave the world premiere of Pascal Dusapin’s Outscape, a concerto for cello and orchestra. Composed as a single continuous movement, this piece is innovative for the ways in which it combines the solo cello with various orchestral ensembles, which come together soaringly at the climax. Here the composer’s program comments about his compositional processes offered useful insights.

In the overall arch-like structure, the simple opening measures are the foundation for more elaborate passages in which the cello’s recitative-like writing becomes impassioned outbursts. In doing so, Dusapin’s equally fervent responses by the orchestra received stellar execution from the orchestra. Dusapin composed Outscapes for soloist Alisa Weilerstein, who gave an intense and involving performance, with rich tone evident from the start. Her clarity in the more florid sections, riding above the full sound of the orchestra, was never strained, and she made the piece seem familiar—a testament to her involvement with the score. The audience responded with incredible warmth.

The remainder of the program was devoted to Holst’s The Planets. As familiar as it may be from live performances and recordings, Măcelaru gave an individual reading that brought out many details. The repeated rhythms in Mars were articulated with visceral intensity, and supported the intersecting brass fanfares that Holst used to evoke the planet’s martial influence. He brought welcome contrast to Venus, in which the delicate, shifting timbres blended masterfully. A similar deft touch gave Mercury its character, and the central movement, Jupiter, was masterfully conducted, with Măcelaru making the transitions between sections seamless. The dance-like passages had a lithe quality that set them apart from the section that Holst eventually extracted as the patriotic chorus “I Vow to Thee.”

In contrast was the subtlety of Saturn, again with distinct timbres, and Uranus was equally strong. In the final movement, Neptune, the conductor aptly balanced the opening against the increasingly soft and sustained chords of that distant planet fading away at the conclusion. Capping an exceptional performance were the women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, especially effective in the final bars, as their tone floated over the orchestra.

Măcelaru’s fresh and exciting interpretation of the Holst score showed the ways in which this young conductor can reshape the familiar, and the CSO responded well to him. His mastery of the premiere also sets him apart as an inspired interpreter of new music, and the burnished sound of the orchestra recalled some of the landmark recordings the ensemble has issued under Reiner and Solti.

James L. Zychowicz


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