Grant Park Maestro Gives Gentle Support to Tetzlaff's Muscual Violin

August 05, 2010

Yet Wednesday's offering truly showed the municipally funded, free outdoor concert at its best, where festival administrators paid tribute to Millennium Park's founders with a first-class program featuring the incomparable violinist

After a month of excellent guest conductors having seized the riches of the Grant Park Orchestra, principal conductor Carlos Kalmar returned in top form to the Pritzker pavilion Wednesday night. The Uruguay-Austrian maestro was back for one of the season's most impressive concerts, which, at least during this summer season, might as well be repeated over and over again. Yet Wednesday's offering truly showed the municipally funded, free outdoor concert at its best, where festival administrators paid tribute to Millennium Park's founders with a first-class program featuring the incomparable violinist Christian Tetzlaff. The orchestra, too, seems to be embarking on a new era of excellence, sounding as brilliant as any top-tier ensemble that comes through town.

These two forces were marvelous in a stirring account of the Dvorak Violin Concerto. The golden-locked, sleekly dressed native of Frankfurt, Germany, gave a muscular performance that drew you in and kept you there. While Tetzlaff is not the most lyrical violinist around, his playing can sing and serenade without the usual slick array of pretty notes. Kalmar loaned him gentle support, allowing the star soloist to develop each of his phrases with that unteachable intelligence and intensity. He was given a loud ovation.

As one of his shorter symphonies, Shostakovich's Ninth (1945) teems with warped humor that flies in the face of Soviet authorities who had wished for something much nobler after their defeat of the Nazis. Aren't ninth symphonies, after all, supposed to be the cornerstone of every great composer's canon? Not with the perennially hounded Shostakovich, whose symphony was eventually banned by the Soviet Union's ruthless Central Committee in 1948.

Kalmar was most convincing when channeling Shostakovich's sardonic wit and anger, yielding an inquisitive performance that could shatter your heart in one measure and provoke a toothy grin the next. Strings had a lustrously dark sheen and woodwinds were especially prominent, with principal flutist Mary Stolper offering several plum solos. Given the work's brevity, it somehow all felt like a tease as Kalmar's anticipated season finale of Mahler's Second Symphony waits in the wings.

Without intermission, this rich and hearty program lasted just a little over an hour. Kalmar began the night by parceling out an energized version of John Adams' jumpy and timely "Lollapalooza" (1995). Under its goofy bassoon chirps and sneering trombones, Adams' infectious rhythms burrow in your brain and stay there.

Bryant Manning, Sun Times