CSO thunders gloriously with Marsalis’ `All Rise’

It thunders, it cries out, it implores the heavens for salvation and comfort and peace.

Like a vast church service, it proceeds inexorably from prayer to resolution. Like an extended jazz solo, it evolves mercurially from one thrilling climax to another, changing expressive direction with hardly a moment’s notice.

No, this is not exactly the kind of repertoire listeners expect to hear at the subscription concerts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But the CSO and its Chorus, in tandem with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (which Marsalis directs), gave the piece a sumptuous Chicago premiere Thursday in Symphony Center.

Though one might quibble with aspects of guest conductor Steven Sloane’s interpretation, he and roughly 200 musical colleagues argued persuasively for the enduring value of “All Rise.” Their technically sleek rendition, though sometimes lacking in dramatic charge, reaffirmed the stature of the work.

Like Marsalis’ “In This House, On This Morning,” a 1994 suite that takes the form of a gospel prayer meeting, “All Rise” addresses crucial issues of faith and the human condition. From its opening pages, which evoke Creation, to its subsequent essays on the travails and tragedies of everyday life, “All Rise” does not flinch in questioning the nature of human existence.

When the choir repeatedly chants “Save us . . . for we know not what we do,” there’s no doubt that Marsalis is intent on probing the frailties and spiritual yearnings of all humanity.

The beauty of “All Rise” is that it does so in utterly approachable ways, using accessible, even beguiling musical languages that anyone can understand and savor. Its seductive samba rhythms, slow-drag blues tunes, down-home fiddler’s music and Afro-Cuban dance beats make “All Rise” a modern-day fanfare for the common man (to borrow from Aaron Copland). And yet, for all its openness and approachability, “All Rise” conveys unmistakable sophistication of harmony, structure and orchestration.

Though each of its 12 movements has something indelible to recommend it, one cannot easily forget the pulsing opening movement, “Jubal Step”; the surging Latin rhythms of “El `Gran’ Baile de la Reina”; or the brilliant tone-painting of “Expressbrown Local.”

Conductor Sloane neatly melded the jazz, classical and populist elements of this music, but several of the movements require more rhythmically vigorous, sonically bold statements. Nonetheless, it’s doubtful that any vocal ensemble has sung this piece as poetically as the CSO Chorus did.

– By Howard Reich, Tribune arts critic
Source: Chicago Tribune

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