CSO, Muti of­fer a bril­liant, mov­ing and timely Re­quiem

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY KYLE MACMIL­LAN For the Sun-Times

The Chicago Sym­phony Or­ches­tra is on a roll. For three con­sec­u­tive weeks, the en­sem­ble has been led by a vet­eran, world-class con­duc­tor, each hold­ing a ma­jor past or present post with the or­ches­tra and each de­liv­er­ing a per­for­mance be­fit­ting their stand­ing.

For­mer prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor Bernard Haitink helmed a pro­gram that in­cluded a prob­ing look at Bruck­ner’s Sym­phony No. 6, and last week, for­mer mu­sic di­rec­tor Daniel Baren­boim re­turned for the first time since his de­par­ture, with a dy­namic, in-the-mo­ment take on Smetana’s “Ma vlast.”

Thurs­day evening in Or­ches­tra Hall, it was mu­sic di­rec­tor Ric­cardo Muti’s turn, and he did not dis­ap­point. The mae­stro is renowned as one of the world’s lead­ing in­ter­preters of the mu­sic of Giuseppe Verdi, and he again vividly demon­strated why.

Muti and the Chicago Sym­phony re­turned to the com­poser’s Re­quiem Mass, which they recorded live dur­ing per­for­mances in 2009. The al­bum would go on to win two Gram­mys in 2011. Verdi wrote this tow­er­ing work in 1874 in re­mem­brance of poet and author Alessan­dro Man­zoni, whom he greatly ad­mired.

The com­poser gave the Mass the dra­matic sweep of his op­eras and in­fused it with tur­bu­lent, com­pet­ing emo­tions, all of which swirled to life in a thrilling, vis­ceral per­for­mance that was at once chill­ing and com­fort­ing, mov­ing and un­nerv­ing.

Muti and the or­ches­tra bril­liantly con­veyed the thun­der­ing, raw fury of the “Dies irae,” with prin­ci­pal per­cus­sion­ist Cyn­thia Yeh pound­ing two gi­ant bass drums at the same time, set­ting it against equally com­pelling qui­eter sec­tions like the for­lorn “Quid sum miser” and the re­flec­tive, ele­giac open­ing of the “Re­quiem and Kyrie.”

The mae­stro has a knack for se­lect­ing soloists, and he chose four first-rate in­ter­na­tional singers here whose voices nicely meshed — so­prano Vit­to­ria Yeo, mezzo-so­prano Daniela Bar­cel­lona, tenor Piotr Beczala and bass Dmitry Belos­sel­skiy.

The stand­out was ar­guably Belos­sel­skiy, who can dis­play con­sid­er­able power but also sur­pris­ing del­i­cacy with his flex­i­ble, em­brac­ing voice. He had high points aplenty, in­clud­ing the plain­tive plea for mercy, “Salva me,” in the “Rex tremen­dae” and his ex­pres­sive solo in the “Confu­tatis” with his nu­anced shifts in phras­ing and tim­bre.

Mak­ing her Chicago Sym­phony de­but, Yeo, a South Korean so­prano who has worked reg­u­larly with Muti since 2015, showed her­self

to be a dis­ci­plined, com­mu­nica­tive singer with a bright, soar­ing up­per reg­is­ter. Bar­cel­lona, Belos­sel­skiy and she will re­join the or­ches­tra on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, 2019, when it presents the Re­quiem Mass again as part of an Asian tour.

But the bulk of the praise should ar­guably go to the or­ches­tra’s fine Cho­rus, num­ber­ing nearly 150 voices for this per­for­mance. Su­perbly pre­pared as usual by di­rec­tor Duain Wolfe, it de­liv­ered tech­ni­cally re­fined sing­ing that was minutely re­spon­sive to the ev­ery twist and turn, from the ex­cit­ing dou­ble cho­rus in the “Sanc­tus” to the as­sertively whis­pered take on “Quan­tus tremor” sec­tion of the “Dies irae.”

This week’s per­for­mances of Verdi’s Re­quiem Mass are part of “A Time for Re­flec­tion — A Mes­sage of Peace,” a set of pro­grams the or­ches­tra is pre­sent­ing to com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War I. But they took on an­other mean­ing Thurs­day evening.

Muti al­most never speaks from the podium, but he made an ex­cep­tion af­ter he stepped onto the stage. He ded­i­cated the con­cert to the vic­tims of what he called a “mas­sacre,” a mass shoot­ing a day ear­lier at a coun­try-west­ern bar in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif., ask­ing the au­di­ence to stand for a mo­ment of re­flec­tion.

TODD ROSEN­BERG PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Mu­sic di­rec­tor Ric­cardo Muti ded­i­cated the CSO’s Thurs­day per­for­mance to the vic­tims of the Thou­sand Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia, shoot­ing.

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