Review: “Truth to Power”

Classical Music Critic

Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan
When: through Jun. 8
Tickets: 312-294-3000

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in the midst of its three week festival entitled “Truth to Power.” The performances are of works written in the 30s and 40s and the uniting idea is that though this period of history was fraught with peril “yet in this dark era, Benjamin Britten, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich produced works that stirred nations toward hope and a brighter future.”

Conductor Jaap van Zweden leads the CSO in these performances, and he was splendid in one of the early concerts in the festival, which featured the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from “Peter Grimes” by Britten and the Shostakovich Symphony No. 7.
The Sea Interludes, often found on Symphonic programs, are engrossing small pieces in their own right, and don’t need the full opera around them for the listener to appreciate them. “Dawn” was stark and mysterious, with particularly nice texture in the winds. “Sunday Morning” had clockwork complexity, and “Moonlight” was ominous. You could feel the blustery winds in “Storm” with the brass creating a force of nature.
The Passacaglia opened with the softness of cat’s feet giving way to a single plaintive viola melody. The crying dissonances in the strings were rendered superbly and the work concluded with the kind of quietness which brings to mind dissolving fog.
The Shostakovich Seventh Symphony, subtitled “Leningrad”, opened with bold, brash confidence and went from strength to strength, including gorgeous sound from flutist Mathieu Dufour. The Moderato movement was delicately understated, enhancing its power. In the Adagio, van Zweden found all the beauty in the soaring violin lines and then he displayed the muscle of the music. The final movement was relentlessly stuffed with power and force. In all, it was a moving performance.

The festival concludes with four performances of Britten’s Violin Concerto paired with the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. The CSO and van Zweden will be joined by violinist Simone Lamsma. The concerts are on Jun. 5, 6, 7, and 8 at Symphony Center.