Saturday night I attended the Chicago Symphony's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto #24 and the Requiem, both pieces I know well. I was disappointed, particularly in Riccardo Muti's direction of the Requiem.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus comprise some of the best musicians in the world. The CSC, in fact, had a reputation for being the best chorus in the world when I was growing up. But Saturday, they seemed robotic. Every note, rhythm, cutoff, dynamic, and pronunciation was perfect; and yet, the performance was boring. It was like watching a 1-0 baseball game that goes into extra innings. Every play might be perfect but the overall effect is "so what?"
Chicago Classical Review writer Lawrence Johnson heard the same thing:
Muti used the traditional Süssmayr completion as well as a now-untraditional full complement of the CSO Chorus. While grand in sonic scale, the chorus sounded top-heavy in this repertory, even with dexterous balancing.
Still, everything was technically in place, tempos well-judged and the orchestral playing as refined and responsive as one would expect, with standout turns by the basset horns of John Bruce Yeh and J. Lawrie Bloom, bassoonist William Buchman and a rich and rounded trombone solo from Michael Mulcahy in the “Tuba mirum.”
Yet the overall effect was of an emotionally cool and expressively straitened performance, lacking intensity, energy and an engagement with the spiritual drama of the mass setting. Everything emerged clearly and forcefully yet the roiling drama and interior introspection were only fitfully evident.
The CSO Chorus, directed by Duain Wolfe, performed with customary polish and corporate cohesion, though here too there was little expressive warmth and too much generalized singing in ensemble passages. Perhaps the performance will fill out over the weekend, but Thursday night it felt very much like a firmly drawn outline of the score rather than a deep and probing account of the drama within.
What would have made it better? Vocal lines that went someplace; a smaller group; and in some parts, quicker tempi.
I texted a friend later on: "Epiphany: Apollo can be a better chorus than CSC." We'll prove it a week from Saturday at our spring concert, too. (Saturday March 7th, 7:30pm, Rockefeller Chapel. Buy tickets now!