Entering his fourth season as head of the CSO, Daniel Barenboim is on the hot seat. Critics and subscribers are grousing about the inconsistencies in his interpretations; some of the players feel he's either too tough or too soft; and to top it all off the Orchestral Association is embarking on an expensive renovation project and can ill afford bad publicity. But Barenboim does have some redeeming qualities: a well-honed musicianship that shines through, especially in his solo piano and chamber recitals; a willingness to experiment, which can result in different performances of the same piece in successive concerts; and a devotion to contemporary works. Though the upcoming season veers toward the conservative--so as not to alienate Solti loyalists--it also includes a large number of premieres and follow-up performances of commissions from last year (including Elliott Carter's Partita), along with less familiar fare from established masters--as on this weekend's bill. The opening gala Friday with headliner Kathleen Battle will no doubt bring out the society crowd, but it's the Saturday and Tuesday concerts that cater to true music lovers: the playlist includes Beethoven's Elegy and Choral Fantasy, Schubert's Symphony no. 8, Bruckner's Psalm 150, and another choral oddity, Der Feuerreiter, by one of the late 19th century's most gifted songwriters, Hugo Wolf. In charge of the Chicago Symphony Chorus is its new director
Duain Wolf. Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.