Four Concerts, Three Days, Minor Knee Pain
Time Out Chicago - Deceptively Simple
By Marc Geelhoed
What with the hubbub in Grant Park this weekend, it would've been all too easy to let several gripping concerts fall by the wayside, unheard and thus ignored. Piano dynamo Valentina Lisitsa played Shostakovich with the Grant Park Orchestra; organ dynamo (and only 19!) Nathan Laube whipped up a storm with Messiaen and Duruflé; Hilary Hahn and Josh Ritter held each other's hand up at Ravinia, and were followed by Das neue Cabaret stylings of Gabriel Kahane. This was a weekend traversing every possible mode of presentation, from the pensive combination of Hahn's violin with Ritter's folk-rock to the straightahead playing of an orchestra and the endlessly fascinating sounds derived from that seemingly most traditional of instruments, the pipe organ.
Starting with the most recent, organist Nathan Laube returned home to Chicago from Philadelphia, where he'll graduate from the Curtis Institute next year, to play a recital at St. Pauls Church in Lincoln Park. Armed with a pedal technique that can delineate counterpoint with exquisite clarity and grace, and an ear for balanced sonorities, and the ability to partner soloists without overwhelming them, he's already a major artist on his instrument. In addition to his own solo turns, he accompanied oboist Jelena Dirks, a frequent substitute with the Chicago Symphony, and trumpeter Chris Martin, the CSO's principal trumpeter.
Dirks had the first half, Martin showed up on the second, having dashed down from Ravinia where he played the offstage trumpet call in Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2. The liquid tone Dirks drew from both oboe and English horn played well off the silken registrations employed by Laube, as in the slow and languorous final movements of Jan Koetsier's Partita. She also poured out phrase after high-flying phrase in the English horn arrangement of Clara Schumann's Prelude and Fugue, with an unerring sense of intonation, too, which ended her portion of the concert.
Martin opened the program up to virtuoso flash, in the forms of Tomaso Albinoni's Concerto Saint-Marc (originally for oboe), and Henri Tomasi's Semaine Sainte a Cuzco, an imagining of Cuzco's Holy Week celebrations. The bristling fanfares from the trumpet and here-comes-Armageddon rumblings in the organ tore through the cathedral, while Martin's thoughtfully tapered phrases in the Albinoni showed that vrituosity doesn't always come lit by klieg lights. A similar spirit animated his playing of Fauré's "Après un rêve," on flugelhorn, with a tone that simply glowed. Sometimes, it's the smallest gestures that make the deepest impression.
On his own, Laube offered up Messiaen, Duruflé and Bach interspersed with the oboe and trumpet solos. He ended the program with the crashing Toccata from Duruflé's Suite for Organ, Op. 5, a work of such thunderous climaxes and fast-moving footwork that it essentially sweeps away everything in its path. He also wound his way through the intricacies of the final movement of Messiaen's La Nativité du seigneur with expert grace, but it was his traversal of Bach's G minor Fantasia and Fugue in G, BWV 542, that cemented his artistry most permanently.
Inside 15 minutes, Laube was indefatigable in his efforts to untangle Bach's counterpoint. He turned the extended fugue into a conversation, and his outstanding control over the pedals allowed the bass to be a full actor in the drama. That points to real artistry, not just hours in the practice studio.