Violinist Faust, in a brilliant CSO debut, makes convincing case for flawed Schumann rarity

05.12.18
Isabelle Faust
Chicago Tribune

In the absence of anything truly new, the programs that fill the remaining six weeks of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's subscription season include several works of lesser importance by important composers.

Such was the case at the concert leading off the weekend series Friday night at Symphony Center, where the young German violin virtuosa Isabelle Faust made her CSO debut playing a 165-year-old concerto by Robert Schumann that was new to the orchestra's downtown repertory: the Violin Concerto in D minor.

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Faust gave the lie to the standard rap that the music is unplayable - technically difficult, yes, but entirely playable if the soloist respects what's on the page. She stuck close to Schumann's metronome marking in the finale (which many fiddlers find problematic), making the polonaise rhythm feel light and dancelike despite the music's dogged repetitiveness. The movement is marked "lively, but not too fast," and that's exactly how she and Krivine treated it. 

Even better was the brief slow movement, in which the throb of her silken tone and long-breathed phrasing honored the music's tender romantic sensibility. She dispatched the bravura pages with spot-on digital marksmanship calculated to call attention to the music rather than to herself. In short, she made Schumann's problematic opus succeed despite itself. Krivine, who began his career as a violinist before taking up the baton, supported her sensitive performance with clarity and balance.

This was an oddly structured service work for the orchestra musicians. One wondered whether that had something to do with scattered lapses of unanimity and intonation throughout the program. The flutes and horns sounded subpar, and the hornist occupying the third chair suffered a disastrous flub in the finale to Saint-Saens' "Organ" Symphony. Then, too, Krivine's rather loose baton technique does not make him the easiest conductor to follow.

Saint-Saens' Third Symphony is slowly returning to general favor after years of neglect, and it was good to have this unfairly maligned specimen of Gallic romanticism at its peak back at the CSO, particularly since the orchestra plays so few concertante works using Orchestra Hall's splendidly restored (as of the building's late-1990s expansion and renovation) pipe organ. 

 Read the rest of the review here