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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

MSO Offers Rarely Heard ‘Symphony of Psalms’

Plus: Prometheus Trio ends season on strong note

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For whatever reason, some landmark works are rarely programmed. Such is the case with Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms,heard last weekend at Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, last performed here in 1991. Using Psalm texts in Latin, the composer gave unusual symphonic structure to a three-movement piece for chorus and orchestra.

Stravinsky stated that he preferred children’s voices in the soprano and alto chorus parts. As a nod to that intention, members of the Milwaukee Children’s Choir joined the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. There was a noticeably airier, lighter choral tone as a result, an interesting contrast to the orchestration, which excludes violins, violas and clarinets. Conductor Edo de Waart stressed clarity and structure. Though the chorus delivered a good performance, there was some tentativeness, possibly due to limited experience working with de Waart.

In Brahms’ A German Requiem the less than complete connection between chorus and conductor was more pronounced. The chorus, probably accustomed to a much more extroverted Andreas Delfs in the piece, sounded unsure at times. Its restraint helped to blend, but shortchanged climaxes. As romantic as the music sounds, there is plenty of classicism in Brahms. De Waart brought out objective aspects, with tempos on the fast side. The performance was not as warm as one expects. A young baritone, Luca Pisaroni presented his solos with presence, resonance and wonderful diction. Soprano Lisa Larsson’s lovely voice was not as free and creamy as it promised to be.

It’s hard to believe that the Prometheus Trio has just completed a 10th season. The well-played concert last week at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music was surely one of its best. The group’s strength has always been in building interesting programs. This concert featured a fascinating mix of pieces. I had never heard Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1, written at 17, unselfconsciously moving from style to style. Edouard Lalo’s Piano Trio No. 3 (1880) was a revelation, with fiery excitement and long-lined French romanticism. It was a joy to hear Lili Boulanger’s fresh, exquisite and energetic D’un matin de printemps. Pianist Stefanie Jacob shone bright in Mendelssohn’s Trio in D minor, Op. 49.