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Unusual CSO program gets the joint jumpin’ at Symphony Center

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◆ 8 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

◆ Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan

◆ Tickets, $10-$212

◆ (312) 294-3000;

Updated: June 26, 2013 6:11AM

The joint was jumpin’ Thursday night.

Not the most typical phrase, perhaps, to describe even the most exciting Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. But it certainly applied to Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas’ “La noche de los mayas” that wrapped up this week’s CSO program, heard Thursday at Symphony Center. Drawn from a score for a now-forgotten 1939 film, the four-movement piece was an intriguing blend of serene, dreamy moments and sections of heaven-storming sweep and power.

In the final, fast-paced movement, titled “Noche de encantamiento” (“Night of Enchantment”), 13 ­­— yes, 13, — percussionists gleefully, and expertly, hammered away at everything from timpani and Indian drums to wood blocks and xylophones. Half the CSO turned to watch as the group roared through an extended solo section that included haunting calls from a giant conch shell. Guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto bounced along with the beat, his arms down, trusting the percussionists — who sometimes improvised — to find their own way through the tangle of overlapping rhythms. The audience bobbed in their seats, tapping a finger here, a toe there with the urgent syncopations that often clashed and shifted abruptly like tectonic plates. There was a moment of stunned silence after the final, frenzied chords and then storms of applause.

Prieto and the CSO followed up with an encore, a very rare occurrence at CSO subscription concerts. The “Mardi Gras” section of Ferde Grofe’s “Mississippi Suite” had its cheesy, movie-music moments. But there was genuine warmth and golden color in its lush melodies and high-spirited evocation of a country hoedown. Yes, indeed, the very definition of a jumpin’ joint.

Continuing the theme of the CSO’s ongoing “Rivers” festival, the concert opened with something more subdued but still powerful, a suite from “Panambi,” a 1937 ballet score by composer Alberto Ginastera. Inspired by ancient life along Argentina’s Parana River, the music was full of atmospheric shimmering strings and swaying, mellow brass. Prieto shaped its sumptuous reveries with a sure yet light hand; guest timpanist, Jeremy Epp of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, carved out a rock-solid underlying pulse. Even the final movement’s dissonant clamor had a strong sense of melodic line and forward momentum.

Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the virtuoso soloist in another look at life on the water, Camille Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”). His rippling cascades and lilting melodies were pristine yet highly expressive, and the concerto had some brilliantly colored moments of inventive harmony and rhythm. But the overall effect was glossy and superficial, a work full of surface effects rather than enduring substance.

Wynne Delacoma, the Sun-Times classical music critic from 1991 to 2006, is a freelance contributor.

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