Seldom-Heard Gems Sparkle Under Hanna Lintu's Direction

July 11, 2008

Wednesday evening at the Pritzker Pavilion, the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus once again assembled a provocative program of the novel and the familiar, this time under the baton of the promising young Finnish maestro Hannu Lintu.

While the music of Sibelius is common enough on the concert stage, his 15-minute choral cantata "The Captive Queen" is a rarity. It would be hard to imagine a more authoritative guiding hand than Lintu's for its first GPO performance. The Finnish composer's music often bristles with nationalist sentiment, but in this work the inclination is especially conspicuous. Lintu was particularly persuasive in the processional passages, and his choral forces bloomed with royal fervor.

A more ambitious GPO premier was Karol Symanowski's "Stabat Mater," a 20-minute work with chorus and soloists using the familiar 13th Century Latin sequence. It has achieved a modest following among choral aficionados, but performances of the solemn work are scarce. The score is far richer in detail and more complex in musical syntax than the Sibelius, but Lintu was undaunted, and seemed entirely in his element.

Symanowski's music can be cosmopolitan to a fault, and while this piece dates from an era when Polish nationalism was his principal obsession, the myriad influences can be a thorny matter for performer and listener alike.

Generous kudos to the maestro for maintaining a semblance of continuity as the score flaunted a broad palette of influences that included Scriabin, Mussorgsky, Debussy and Wagner.

GPO's chorus seems to be holding up well after the temporary departure of director Christopher Bell. Don Horisberger stepped in to make the singers feel at home in unfamiliar territory. Soprano Jonita Lattimore glistened in extended lyrical turns, and mezzo Susan Platts and baritone Quinn Kelsey held their ground in formidable solo roles.

A generally convincing reading of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") completed the program.

Michael Cameron, Chicago Tribune