CSO offers eloquent performance in honor of Pierre Boulez

Johannes Moser
Chicago Tribune

Uncanny are the workings of fate, sometimes.

Also, it was Nott who made his CSO podium debut in March 2012 as one of the conductors replacing Boulez when doctors advised the ailing Boulez against overseas travel.

By further coincidence, the soloist for the present concerts, the impressive German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, is returning to the CSO for the first time since 2005 when he made his subscription series debut under the direction of — you guessed it — Boulez.

The music of Richard Strauss was something of a guilty pleasure with Boulez, although he actually conducted a fair amount of Strauss with the CSO. I have fond recollections of his penetrating "Also sprach Zarathustra," a surprisingly charming "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" Suite and a wonderfully deadpan "Till Eulenspiegel." What I wouldn't give to have heard a Boulez "Elektra" — or, for that matter, a Boulez "Ein Heldenleben."

Each section was vividly characterized, from the acidic woodwind choir depicting Strauss' carping critics, to the magnificent noise of the battle scene, to the eloquent closing pages in which Nott eased up to allow the music time and space to breathe and give off a soft, golden glow. Once again concertmaster Robert Chen brought seductive beauty of tone and feeling to the solo violin's extended portrait of "The Hero's Companion" — his wife, Pauline, in all her charming, capricious, loving glory.

The concert's first half also had its share of musical distinction, from an affectionate Brahms "Academic Festival Overture" that felt, for once, festive rather than academic; to Moser's deft, wonderfully spontaneous account of Haydn's Cello Concerto in C.

The cellist's tonal warmth and wide dynamic palette, the grace of his phrasing and the elegance and accuracy with which he dispatched Haydn's spirited finale (at top speed) were much to be admired, as was the crisp intimacy of Nott's chamber-orchestra accompaniment. We really need to hear more of Moser at the CSO. One's only reservation concerned his choice of cadenzas; they are by his first cello professor, Wen-Sinn Yang, and not all of them sounded especially Haydnesque. 

Read the rest of the review here