Chicago Symphony Orchestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chicago Symphony Orchestra 

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be joined by an A-list group of soloists and three choirs here in performing one of the largest works in the repertoire, Mahler's Symphony no. 8. Deborah Voigt's powerful voice has made her one of the reigning Wagnerian sopranos, and Stephanie Blythe's mezzo is glorious. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach isn't known for stunning Mahler interpretations, but the CSO is a great Mahler orchestra and can play around their leader if necessary. The two-part symphony, the last wholly optimistic work Mahler wrote, is a tribute to the philosophical and sexual sides of inspiration, joining a powerful Latin hymn of thanks to the creator for the gift of music and the final scene from Goethe's Faust, a meditation on the nature of life. What could have been a sprawling mess of conflicting messages is held together by Mahler's use of melodies from the first part in the second to evoke the text with which it was originally paired. Punctuating the many high-decibel, sometimes bombastic passages are moments of great subtlety--the soloists and chorus, accompanied by a solo violin, softly beseeching God to "Endow our weak flesh with perpetual light," the woodwinds conjuring up nature, the soprano and two mezzos blending in a searching trio. At the end the combined forces celebrate the fusion of the sacred and the secular--and Mahler knew better than anyone how to lay on the sonic glory. $40, $30, $20, $10. Friday, July 30, 8 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.

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