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Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

MSO Showcases Artistry of Bassist Edgar Meyer

Classical Review

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Bass players rarely become renowned soloists. Edgar Meyer is the exception, performing his own compositions as well as the small body of music by other composers for the instrument. Meyer’s longstanding appeal goes beyond out-of-the-ordinary curiosity. His artistry was happily welcomed on the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra program of last weekend. (I heard the Friday morning concert.)

Meyer’s Concerto No. 1 for Double Bass and Orchestra (1993) fluently mixes styles, opening with a bluesy solo. The slow second movement echoes Gershwin, with a long held note moving into a lonesome melody. A folk fiddle tune, with a bit of a Celtic accent, cooks along in the final movement. The orchestration is light, to accompany the bass, occasionally bursting forth in interludes to spell the soloist. The music is charming and likable. Meyer played with spirit and personality, displaying unusual sounds of his instrument in a high and agile range.

In Giovanni Bottesini’s Passione amorosa Meyer was joined by MSO principal bass Zachary Cohen. This romantic Italian music is strongly reminiscent of Donizetti. It is more or less an opera duet for two double basses, spinning out a singing melody, played in harmony. Other sections had one player on melody and the other decorating it with counter-melody. A quicker section functioned as a cabaletta, a convention in Italian opera. Meyer and Cohen were a terrific duo, playing without score, with earnest expression and phenomenal technique. They matched one another with gorgeous tone that blended flawlessly, yet when each played solo his unique color came forth.

The young Chinese conductor Perry So became the center of attention after intermission. His leadership of Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird was impressive in its elegance, restraint and precision. The orchestra responded with excellent ensemble and a buoyant sound. The organ-like brass sections, with players matching one another in attack and dynamics, were a highlight. So is associate conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, where Edo de Waart is artistic director. This connection easily explains his appearance with MSO. He is in a small, elite group of unusually talented young conductors. So could have quite a future.