REVIEW: ‘Almost as torrid as the weather’

CSO, Domenech, Hadelich beat the heat in colorful, pictorially rich performance

Greg Funka | Staff PhotographerAugustin Hadelich acknowledges a rousing ovation from the Amphitheater audience following an encore performance of the ninth of Niccolò Paganini’s “24 Caprices.” He joined the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Édouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole.”

Greg Funka | Staff Photographer

Augustin Hadelich acknowledges a rousing ovation from the Amphitheater audience following an encore performance of the ninth of Niccolò Paganini’s “24 Caprices.” He joined the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Édouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole.”

Guest Review by John Chacona

It was the kind of night seldom encountered by the cool waters of Chautauqua Lake: suffocatingly hot and humid. So it was easy to forgive the not-insignificant portion of the Amphitheater audience that fled, presumably for the comfort of air-conditioned homes, after Augustin Hadelich’s Apollonian performance of Édouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole.” They didn’t know that they would be missing a performance of Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” that was almost as torrid as the weather.

It was the climax of a program that featured Mediterranean pirates, sunny Spain and a day in Rome, and it was so colorful and pictorially rich that it would have been just as evocative had it been played in the dead of winter.

In the opening “Le Corsaire Overture,” Spanish conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech got a nicely Berliozian sonority from the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. That meant transparent violins, swaggering brass and an emphasis on the French composer’s strange, snaky bass lines that are frequently less about harmonic support than they are a commentary — or a counter-argument. If his reading didn’t match the manic, unhinged fervor that a Charles Munch had brought to this music, it nonetheless sounded right, and the Spanish conductor was well rewarded by a grateful audience.

Hadelich made his North American debut at Chautauqua Institution in 2001, and the Amp crowd welcomed him back as a member of the family. He gave back in kind with a poised and beautifully shaped reading of the “Symphonie espagnole,” neither too reticent nor vulgarly flashy. Hadelich is a cultivated artist, but one with a real feeling for the music. His head-bobbing and singing along with the orchestral tutti revealed a fully committed performer.

And about the orchestra. In the “Symphonie,” composer Édouard Lalo gave it more than mere oom-pah-pah behind the soloist, and Domenech shaped the CSO’s lines with care and more volume than you might expect to hear. Still, he and Hadelich, who stood almost behind the podium and maintained an unusual degree of eye contact with the conductor, were of one mind about this piece. It moved along smartly and without sentimentality.

Hadelich played the 1723 ex-Kiesewetter Stradivarius, on loan from Chautauquans Clement and Karen Arrison, and drew from it a sinewy tone that held its own against the orchestra. It did more than that in his encore, the ninth of Niccolò Paganini’s “24
Caprices,” which fought through the heavy air to fill the Amp. With its lilting folk-song A-section and dazzling pyrotechnics, it was a perfect choice for Hadelich, an artist who puts his technique completely in the service of the music. The four curtain calls felt like too few.

Respighi’s “Pines of Rome is a Ferrari of a 1920s tone poem, gleaming, showy and quite a lot to handle. Push the pedal to the floor and you get something loud, fast and loutish. Domenech didn’t ignore the big moments, but he had great command of dynamics and of orchestral detail.

The “Villa Borghese” movement was a Roman traffic jam, a precursor of Gershwin’s odes to New York and Paris. One could almost see the rude gesture of the driver who sounded the discordant car horn at the movement’s end. And the “Catacombs” movement, with its open harmonies, seemed to be a clear inspiration for Copland’s “big country” music.

But for all the attention to particulars, Domenech built a rather symphonic conception of the “Pines.” Subsidiary climaxes — and all four movements have one — were given their due, but the big march in the “Appian Way” segment was really big and sounded out triumphantly. It didn’t hurt to have two brass choirs antiphonally placed at the top ring of the Amp. But the credit must go to the conductor, who kept a steady, inexorable tempo and allowed the orchestra to build a tower of golden sound; the conductor, whose white Nehru jacket was thoroughly drenched and who was showered with applause by an appreciative audience.

John Chacona is a freelance writer for the Erie Times-News.

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