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Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010

Frankly Music Gem Shines

MSO, Early Music Now add to embarrassment of riches

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The greatness of Gustav Mahler’s eccentric Symphony No. 7 lies in its mysteries. Almost entirely built in very brief episodes, the music does not accumulate in a grand statement typical of the composer. Even veteran concertgoers can be left baffled by it. This is territory for only the most experienced conductor. In a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performance last Saturday evening Edo de Waart was the surefooted pathfinder through the enigmatic mists of the score.

Some of de Waart’s best work here has been in Mahler symphonies. His is a technically detailed approach to these enormous canvases, finding subtlety, clarity and proportion, but also allowing the full bloom of the piece to emerge. He brings a classicist’s clear thinking to romantic excess. I marveled at the ease in which the orchestra flowed from one idea into another.

Tone is pianist Joseph Kalichstein’s hallmark. He brought forth sigh-inspiring, soulful, soft ring from the MSO Steinway in Beethoven’s Concerto No. 2. Magic happened in the quiet, deceptive cadenza of the second movement. That sound towered above all else in the performance; I found some of the otherwise excellent playing over-articulated.

Earlier on the same day, at 5 p.m. at St. Joseph Chapel, Early Music Now began a new season with a concert by the Rose Ensemble, celebrating St. Francis of Assisi two days before his observed feast day. The capacity crowd heard an invigorating and artful program of Italian music from the 14th to 16th centuries related to the topic, spelled with readings about the saint. Accompanied at times by a variety of period instruments, the 10 voices of the ensemble blended flawlessly, expressively finding together an ever-interesting turn of phrase. As a presenting organization, Early Music Now continues to display astute curatorial taste and judgment.

In a week with an embarrassment of riches, the performance that lingered most with me was Richard Strauss’ intensely moving Metamorphosen at Frankly Music on Tuesday evening at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. The music captures the unspeakable sadness of a German citizen after the atrocities of World War II. The septet version by Rudolf Leopold, reducing the orchestration down from the 23 players of the original, was completely satisfying, allowing the constant phrase-spilling-into-phrase dialogue of the music to emerge without conductor. Frank Almond and guests conjured the highest level of playing, and with it earnest and strong emotion that stayed with me for days after.