Chicago Brass & Beethoven's Ninth

Celebrated Argentine-Israeli maestro 
The conductor is the center of attention, yet he makes no sound
Gave the downbeat for Beethoven’s D-minor
Allegro ma non troppo
The sound that flowed around him 
Grimly eloquent at the outset
Electrically triumphant at the end
While most of us incrementally fall to pieces
The conductor gets better with age
Seemingly incapable of giving non-transcendent performances
Now 63 the conductor
Had gravitas in his youth
But something in his work has deepened

A decade ago
There was a crude and chaotic quality to the sound
The vehement aesthetic of his predecessor 
He conducted with a broad beat
Trying at times for profound effects 
He was unable to articulate 
The orchestra unwilling to execute
He no longer pushes so hard
His musicianship is old-fashioned 
Favoring sinewy textures
Earthy rhythms 
Freely singing lines
He sways to his heart’s content between song and structure

The Mahler Ninth felt like a recapitulation of his career
The first movement rocky at times
Orchestra and conductor never quite settling on a central pulse
That stuttering heartbeat rhythm 
There was an engaging wildness in the middle movements
And more disagreements about tempo
Finally
The great Adagio bringing the symphony to a close
The picture snapped into focus
The heat of emotion remained
The music coalesced into one long glowing line

The Beethoven Ninth was cooler in mood
Befitting a composer who carved out his music
As if it were cathedral limestone
The conductor has left the symphony in splendid shape
Marvel over the Chicago brass
For they have no equal
Each time another f was added to the stepwise crescendos
You could hear the gradation clicking into place
The sound towering upward without ever cracking
The Chicago strings
Are also world class
They have acquired a darkly throbbing tone
This night they are especially in synch with the conductor

He rocks backward on his feet
Making the gestures of a drowning man
Then recovering to deliver the punching downbeat
They tremble and dig in with him
There still remains the desperate edge
As if the possibility still exists 
That all men might not be brothers
Though still dreaming of a humanity 
Rebuilt from its constituent parts

6

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