Chicago Symphony Bassoonist Shines In Mozart Concerto

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Chicago Symphony principal bassoonist David McGill performs the Mozart Bassoon Concerto under Riccardo Muti.  (Performance photos by Todd Rosenberg)
Chicago Symphony principal bassoon David McGill performs the Mozart Bassoon Concerto under Riccardo Muti.
(Performance photos by Todd Rosenberg)
By Mike Telin

CHICAGO – When a musician has spent a lifetime perfecting the craft of ensemble playing, it’s not always easy to step to the front of the stage as soloist. However, Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal bassoon David McGill is also a concerto player of great distinction.

McGill’s reputation for possessing superb technique as well as a velvety, singing tone has firmly established him as one of the greatest orchestral wind players of our time. And on June 17 at Orchestra Hall, under the baton of music director Riccardo Muti, he and his colleagues gave Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto a performance of musical refinement and insight that was one for the memory book.

McGill playing the Mozart, his last concerto with the CSO.
McGill playing the Mozart, his last concerto with the CSO.

Written when the composer was 18 years old, Mozart’s Concerto in B-Flat major remains to this day the Mercedes-Benz of the bassoon concerto repertoire. Lasting just under 20 minutes, the work brilliantly showcases the instrument’s versatility. Two-octave leaps and lyrical lines decorated with trills dominate the opening movement. The bassoon’s vocal qualities are in full evidence during the tender, slow movement aria. And the final minuet is a stately dance.

From first note to last, McGill performed with consistent purity of tone, impeccable intonation, and a technical command that most performers on any instrument could only dream of achieving. The concerto presents the soloist with some choices in regard to cadenzas and McGill’s decisions were masterful. The cadenzas were his own – stylish, faithful to Mozart, and above all, never overstaying their welcome. They allowed McGill to put his own musical stamp on the concerto without calling undue attention to themselves.

Muti congratulates McGill after the June 17 performance.
Muti congratulates McGill after the June 17 performance.

Following a performance of such perfection, it was not surprising that the audience, orchestra, and conductor showed their appreciation with a long and hearty ovation. Sadly, this was McGill’s final concerto performance as a CSO member. He is taking an early retirement from the orchestra in order to dedicate his attention to teaching, writing, and solo work.

This season, Muti is in the process of exploring all the symphonies of Schubert with the CSO. The June 17 concert included Symphony No. 6 (“Little C major”) and Symphony No. 1 in D major, written when the composer was 21 and 16 years of age, respectively. Although neither symphony is performed nearly as often as their popular siblings, Muti’s thoughtful interpretations demonstrated that more attention should be given to each of these works.

Schubert, who during his lifetime was more famous as a composer of songs than of symphonies, excelled at creating ravishing melodies, and Muti is the perfect conductor to translate their vocal qualities into an orchestral context. Drawing vibrant and carefully-shaded playing from the CSO, he brought out the architectural clarity of both symphonies as well as their infectious lyricism. At the end of each piece, Muti recognized all the principal winds with solo bows for their role in bringing Schubert’s melodies to life.

Mike Telin is executive editor of ClevelandClassical.com and team-teaches “Introduction to Music Criticism” at Oberlin College.