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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

Bumbling Brass

Classical Review

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In their latest concerts (Feb. 24 and 26), the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Platt performed two works of Beethoven paired with a relatively unknown American piece and a quite obscure Estonian work, and Beethoven lost! The concert began with his Fidelio Overture, Op. 72b (1814). The sprightly overture— the fourth Beethoven composed for his only opera and the one that, in his perfectionist estimation, finally made the cut—is a fine choice for a concert opener as well. Platt lead a generally good performance of this work, with driving, sharp and crisp string passages, but there was trouble brewing in the brass section: The several horn calls were uneven and off pitch.

Decidedly better was Fratres (1976) by Estonian composer Arvo Prt, a work for strings and percussion—something of an Eastern European counterpart to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Fratres consists of a repeated motif of the simplest construction that reaches a climax then fades away to silence. As Platt aptly put it, “shadow-worlds of Eastern Orthodoxy pervade every part of Fratres,” a “haunting little work” that the WSO’s fine string section imbued with the most apropos searing emotion.

Violinist Maria Bachmann performed as soloist for the suite from The Red Violin by American composer John Corigliano, a series of excerpts from his score for the 1998 film. Bachmann was exquisite in the challenging solo violin passages, and again the orchestra’s strings and percussion likewise performed this difficult work admirably.

The second half of the program consisted of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 (1811-12). While once again the strings (and woodwinds) nearly carried the show, the brass marred the work with numerous flubbed notes and unpleasant sounds (the man in the row in front of me lowered his head at several points and slowly shook it from side to side. I felt his pain).

This was an odd concert experience, wherein the crowd-pleasers at the beginning and end were decidedly inferior to the program’s smaller, lesser-known works.