Review: Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lina González-Granados Exhibit Brilliance With the CSO

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra succeeded in a tall order on Thursday night: turning a major work that has often left me wanting into a thing of abject beauty. To accomplish this, Anne-Sophie Mutter gave a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D-major, op. 61, with Lina González-Granados conducting before a very crowded Symphony Center.

Serving as the CSO’s Georg Solti Conducting Apprentice, González-Granados was a late substitute for Riccardo Muti, who earlier in the day tested positive for COVID-19. This is the second time in 2022 that González-Granados has filled in for Muti in a COVID quarantine. The first time was in April.

Lina González-Granados was at one with the CSO on Thursday night. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

With only a few hours notice, the Colombian-American conductor González-Granados clicked with the orchestra, as if she’d been performing with them for years. The CSO helped by bringing its best playing, which was evident from the quiet opening of Beethoven’s violin concerto. As the section chairs traded the melody, which built as instruments joined the conversation, the playing was crisp and tight—no ragged edges at all. While the tempo was a bit slower than I like, their warmth was soulfully infectious. González-Granados built this into a lovely aural fabric.

Anne-Sophie Mutter gently added to the warm sounds with tenderness and subtlety. This was especially evident in several cadence phrases that ended various sections of the opening movement, where she perfectly stretched out the melody, playing notes ever more softly. As these phrases came to an end, she could barely be heard, but a rapt, silent audience allowed the notes to resonate through the air. The effect was breathtaking.

The CSO demonstrated why they are one of the world's greatest orchestras. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

By Beethoven’s standards, the violin concerto is remarkably constrained and quiet. It’s very common for the playing to plod, but not Thursday night. Tension in the slow movement built until released in the frolicking finale, which Mutter jumped into. The only slight snag was that the orchestra seemed to lag behind Mutter at first, but this was quickly resolved. At the end, there were four well-deserved ovations.

Following intermission, the concert continued with another classical chestnut, Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in c-minor op 68. This work offers a great contrast to the Beethoven violin concerto. Instead of quiet subtlety and finesse, Brahms’ first symphony offers pomp and power. While contrasting, these works share similarities. They both open with several beats on the timpani. Beethoven’s are gentle, Brahms’ are ominous.

González-Granados seized on the Brahms immediately by entering the stage and starting things with barely a pause. The orchestra continued its fabulous night from the opening notes. Especially effective was the clarity each section showed when in the limelight, and then blending into the sound when a different section came to the fore. González-Granados was very much a part of the action, her arms swaying to the sounds while engaging each section.

Concertmaster Robert Chen gave a poignant solo at the end of the second movement, and the brass were delightful. It’s always interesting to watch the trombone players, who have nothing to do until several minutes into the finale, when Brahms assigns them a special role of announcing the finale’s beautiful main theme. In this regard, they’re not alone, as the horns and trumpets also participate in this heavenly fanfare of a tune directly inspired by Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the 9th Symphony’s finale.

On the whole, the concert was excellent. Additional performances are tonight, June 17, and tomorrow night, June 18. Lina González-Granados will continue to conduct in place of Riccardo Muti, to whom we wish a speedy recovery. Both performances are at 8pm. Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. Click here for more info.

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Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world. Member of the Music Critics Association of North America.