Lintu returns to Grant Park with imposing Shostakovich

July 25, 2013

By Lawrence A. Johnson, The Chicago Classical Review

Since making his debut at the Grant Park Music Festival a decade ago, Hannu Lintu has become a favorite of both audiences and orchestra members alike, his dynamic podium style and rapport with the musicians ensuring consistently excellent results.

The Finnish conductor is back for a full week at the lakefront music festival, leading off with a program of Beethoven and Shostakovich Wednesday night at the Pritzker Pavilion.

Lintu is a known quantity in Scandinavian repertory—the weekend will bring music of his compatriot Sibelius—but Lintu made an equally strong impression in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

Remarkably, this is Lintu’s first time conducting the Russian composer’s populist Fifth. One certainly wouldn’t have guessed that by the assured and idiomatic performance Lintu and the Grant Park musicians delivered Wednesday night.

Like Carlos Kalmar, Lintu seems to thrive on the challenge of pulling performances together on the short Grant Park rehearsal time. The conductor charted the vast opening movement with great skill and concentration, the climax imposing and powerful with concertmaster Jeremy Black lending sensitive violin solos at the coda.

The satiric element was strongly to the fore in the Allegretto, with Lintu drawing emphatic rhythmic thrust. A couple brief unfocused moments apart, the vast Largo was especially notable, dark and searching with the conductor eliciting daringly hushed dynamic detailing in the final bars.

Lintu opted for a fast pace and interpretive middle ground in the much-debated finale, neither blazingly triumphant nor subversively empty, with a forceful coda that had ample excitement and felt just right. A couple horn lapses apart, the Grant Park Orchestra played with characteristic spirit and gleam, with the violins especially rich and sensitive in the first and third movements.

The evening opened with Kirill Gerstein as solo protagonist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Gerstein is one of the most intelligent and technically equipped keyboard artists of his generation. Winner of the 2010 Gilmore Artist Award, the Russian-born pianist is especially noted for his emphasis on contemporary music.

As one would expect, Gerstein’s playing was beyond reproach, highly polished with articulation light and nimble, Lintu and the orchestra serving up lively and characterful support.

Yet this was a sturdy rather than memorable Beethoven outing. For all its surface sheen, Gerstein’s playing often felt curiously detached. The slow movement—one of Beethoven’s most affecting lyric inspirations—was poised yet cool, and the Rondo finale emerged rather suave, missing Beethoven’s bumptious humor. The sound of the amplified Steinway—pingy and metallic with little warmth—didn’t help.

Hannu Lintu conducts the Grant Park Orchestra in Glazunov’s Symphony No. 4 and Sibelius’s Pohjola’s Daughter and Violin Concerto with Karen Gomyo as soloist 6:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pritzker Pavilion. Admission is free. gpmf.org

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