Classical review, Concertante di Chicago's season opener at DePaul Concert Hall

Impressionism is so indelibly identified with the French that we tend to forget about the offshoots spawned by the examples of Debussy and Ravel. This oversight was addressed by Concertante di Chicago Sunday afternoon at the DePaul University Concert Hall, which opened the chamber orchestra's season.

Only one Frenchman made it onto the program and it was, unsurprisingly, Ravel, although the work represented, an arrangement of his Trois Chansons (1916) for a string ensemble, isn't among his best-known. The other composers were Karol Szymanowski, a Pole, Charles Griffes, an American, and Sibelius, a Finn. And their takes on Impressionism, at least those performed by Concertante, ranged from slavish imitation with a regional accent to imaginative recasting.

The Chansons was first up, rightfully as a source of comparison. Written during World War I, the songs are set to the composer's poems about a maiden who prefers the gold of an aged suitor, the foreboding colors of the French flag and the dangers in the woods. Without the texts, some of the nuances and irony are lost. The Concertante's strings, however, did a credible job luxuriating in the rich, delicate harmonies while conveying its ethereal essence.

Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 1 (1916) betrays his artistic crisis at the time, torn, as he was, between Wagner's structured dramatic chromaticism and Debussy's more amorphous poetic evocation. This one-movement concerto evokes a shimmering nightscape dotted with goblins and sprites, and the sprinkles that mist the air regularly gather force and swell into whirls and geysers.

Instead of heated exchanges with the orchestra, the soloist mostly joins it or continues where it leaves off. Gerardo Ribeiro, a Portuguese-born virtuoso now teaching at Northwestern, handled his part with grace and understatement. Yet, despite Concertante's fine-woven performance guided by Hilel Kagan, the 20-minute concerto still seemed long.

If Griffes' Poem for Flute and Orchestra (1919) brings to mind Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, it's not only because Impressionism's instrument par excellence is showcased. Mary Stolper was the soloist and played with elegance and verve. Except for an uneven brass section, Concertante backed her admirably.

Sibelius' incidental music for a 1905 production of "Pelleas et Melisande" is a minor miniature when measured against his large, sublime canvases, but it still shows how a composer could put his own stamp on Impressionism.

Concertante's reading was shapely and vividly atmospheric, enlivened by outstanding contributions from the wind players.

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