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Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

Edo de Waart, MSO Continue the Mahler Cycle

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Edo de Waart began and ended last MSO season with exciting performances of two big Mahler symphonies: the Fifth last September and the Third last June. The current season will end next June with Mahler’s spectacular Second with choral finale. This weekend, for the second concert of his second season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, de Waart has chosen Mahler’s Seventh, written 1904-06.

It’s fascinating to see what Mahler came up with to bridge from his “Tragic” Sixth Symphony to the heavenly realms of his huge choral Eighth. Mahler’s Seventh is known as “The Song of the Night,” but he did not call it that. He did, however, attach the title Nachtmusik to the second and fourth movements of this five-movement symphony.

“Song of the Night” also fits the darkly titanic opening movement. It’s a mysterious realm of glooms that build to an intensifying march. Radiant vistas break through the clouds only to be swept away in the wild progression of musical events. Somehow all that the ominous opening theme unleashed gives way to a triumphant flourish in the final bars.

The second movement is a jaunty march that would be good to hum while hiking through a dark forest full of bears but lightened by birdcalls. The third movement is a goblinesque scherzo. Like Saint-Sans’ Danse Macabre, it would be good to play on Halloween.

The fourth movement is romantic, as its Andante amoroso marking indicates. It features harp, mandolin and guitar against a smaller component of the orchestra. At first relaxed, then passionate, it helps transition into the exuberantly jubilant finale.

As always with Mahler, expect sonic thrills thanks to his genius for orchestration—that is, use of the various instruments of the orchestra for maximum color and maximum dramatic effect—and emotions that range from the highest heights to the deepest depths.

Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto (actually the first of his five, though published second) will open the concert. His Third Concerto, like his Third Symphony, marks his breakthrough into what came to be known as Romanticism. The first two concertos, like his first two symphonies, were still in the classical spirit and scale of Haydn and Mozart’s last great symphonies.

This early work may not be his “Emperor” Concerto, but it’s wonderful in its own way. Written in his late teens in the late 1780s, it’s full of youthful charm and playfulness, no sign yet of the sturm und drang to come. Except for one stern minor key episode, the finale is a romp.

The Milwaukee Symphony led by Edo de Waart will perform Mahler’s Seventh Symphony and Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto with guest pianist Joseph Kalichstein at 11:15 a.m. Friday, Oct. 1, and at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.