Review: Changes in venue and program benefit Grant Park Orchestra

August 03, 2013

By Alan G. Artner,  The Chicago Tribune

Friday night's concert at the Grant Park Music Festival was to have preceded a recording of music for and about children.

But as conductor Carlos Kalmar announced from the stage of the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the recording had been postponed and on the concert Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Suite from "The Nutcracker" had replaced John Alden Carpenter's "Adventures in a Perambulator."

No matter. Kalmar's programs usually are so well made that one substitution is seldom enough to diminish interest, particularly when the orchestra is playing inside -- to accommodate circuses such as Lollapalooza -- without the coarsening effects of amplification.

So vivid was the difference between Edward Elgar's "Nursery" Suite and Leos Janacek's "The Fiddler's Child" that listeners could have discerned it without Kalmar alerting them. For this was equally a matter of the works' different styles – late Romantic versus modern – as different qualities of sound required to put across content most poetically.

The seven Elgar movements are short salon pieces that can get by on directness. But innocence, nostalgia and Elgar's particular brand of nobility also are present, here demanding gentle withdrawal, there a drive boyish and rambunctious. Tender tone comes across only wanly outside, as it did earlier this season with Kalmar's Faure. In the Harris, however, it conveyed emotional strength and depth, making good the conductor's claim that some of the trifles are, in fact, great.

The single-movement Janacek, a tone poem about death as a release from cares of the poor, is by turns melancholy and sweet, with fierce ejaculations continually interrupting. Neither the rhapsody nor the outcries should be minimized, and on Friday they weren't. A prominent part for solo violin gave concertmaster Jeremy Black extended chance to shine, as he already had done in a much shorter cadenza in the Elgar.

Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" Suite is such familiar music that, paradoxically, you rarely hear it anymore apart from the full ballet or odd outlying pops concert. Kalmar treated it seriously, mindful of its relation to movement, refusing to push hard even when at the end of the Russian trepak the score demands as fast a tempo as possible. The audience uproariously approved his fine restraint.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.