Simone Porter’s ravishing Korngold highlights Illinois Philharmonic opener

Simone Porter
Chicago Classical Review

Having a dynamic and ambitious young music director guiding its artistic fortunes is crucial for any regional orchestra seeking to attract the top players and to build a solid, community-minded organization—especially in an area as replete with competing suburban ensembles as greater Chicago.
The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra had such a conductor in the now-departed David Danzmayr. It most certainly has one again in his gifted successor, Stilian Kirov, now in the second season of a three-year contract as music director of the southwest suburban ensemble.
The dryish but clear and pleasing acoustic of Ozinga Chapel may not have been ideal for the richly cinematic orchestral textures of the Korngold concerto (the acoustical shell no doubt helped projection), but they provided a satisfactory frame for soloist Simone Porter’s ravishing performance.
The day is long past, fortunately, when this unabashedly romantic piece – commissioned by Bronislaw Huberman and premiered and promoted by Jascha Heifetz – was dismissed by critics as hopelessly reactionary, derived as are its materials from Korngold’s soundtracks to such silver-screen oldies as Anthony Adverse and The Prince and the Pauper. In recent decades the score has secured a firm and well-deserved foothold in the concert repertoire and on recording.
Porter commands the technical chops, throbbing vibrato but, most importantly, the expressive panache, needed to bring the music’s rhapsodic lyricism to life; she did so with absolute sincerity and not a whiff of gloppy sentiment. Indeed, the deep, penetrating sound she drew from her instrument – a 1745 Guadagnini violin on loan from the Mandell Collection of Southern California – easily rode Korngold’s shimmering orchestration.
Heifetz was, of course, nonpareil in “his” concerto, but Porter’s silken-toned virtuosity puts her right up there with the finest interpreters of her generation. Her intonation was impeccable, even in the breakneck digital gymnastics of the finale.
Kirov and the orchestra backed her with comparable warmth, sweep and flexibility, even if the horns weren’t squarely on pitch for their big restatement of the dancing theme of the variations-finale—a goosebumps-inducing passage that suggests Errol Flynn in full swashbuckling glory.
American in Paris is film music that originated in the concert hall – who can forget Gene Kelly dancing along the boulevards of Paris to the strains of Gershwin’s music, in Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 film of the same name?
Balances were a tad careless and some of the attacks untidy, but I admired the jaunty exuberance Kirov’s players brought to the jazzy syncopations of An American in Paris. The direction they received from the podium was articulate and purposeful; best of all, the IPO chief refused to cheapen this tuneful slice of vintage Americana with any errant showmanship. The man is all music – all business – and the organization he heads is the clear beneficiary. Read the full review here