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Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010

MacDowell Club’s Music for One, Two, Three…

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The MacDowell Club of Milwaukee’s next concert (“Solos and Ensembles”) certainly lives up to its billing, providing concertgoers with all sorts of instrumental and/or vocal combinations performing a wide variety of works. But the best adjective to describe this event (and a word near and dear to everyone’s heart) is that it’s free!

Appearing will be the MacDowell Club’s Mary Ellen Burrescia, Sister Marion Verhaalen, Monica Verona and Shanti Daya (pianists), flutist Linda Hartig, clarinetists Gail Hodkiewicz and Dan Roberdeau, violinist Joan Rooney, mezzo-soprano Donna Shriner and soprano Sally Lane Schwarz.

Though a rather obscure figure in music history, Italian composer, violinist and conductor Vittorio Monti (1868-1922) produced one surefire hit: the Czárdás (1904), which has remained popular with gypsy music ensembles ever since.

One of the masters of the Classical era, Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-87) is best remembered for his operas, including the groundbreaking Orfeo ed Eurydice, from which Ms. Rooney and Sister Verhaalen perform a famous melody.

German composer, conductor and violinist Ludwig Spohr (1784-1859) never completely abandoned the blueprint of the Viennese musical masters, and to the end of his life regarded Mozart as the perfect composer. Though his output is fairly conservative, it also possesses charm and elegance. The MacDowell Club performs four of Spohr’s Sechs Deutsche Lieder, Op. 103 for voice, clarinet and piano.

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) produced 14 so-called “Choros,” a popular instrumental genre of Latin America with rather obscure origins. Villa-Lobos saw the Choro as a popular dance in which “are synthesized the different modalities of Brazilian, Indian and popular music,” as he put it. His Choros No. 2 is on the program.

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was one of the pre-eminent musical figures of his time, and certainly the finest British composer since the Baroque masters Purcell and Handel (the latter, actually German, was “adopted” by England). A superb composer for orchestra and chorus, Elgar was by no means a distinguished songwriter, but his cycle Sea Pictures, Op. 37 (1899) represents his best efforts in the genre. MacDowell Club members perform four of the five songs of Op. 37: the calming “Sea Slumber Song;” the delicate “In Haven;” the eloquent and grand “Sabbath Morning at Sea;” and “Where Corals Lie”—long the most popular of the cycle.

Ms. Burrescia puts per piano skills to work with the Prelude, Op. 38, No. 24 by Soviet Russian composer Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-87), as well as the Etude in D-Flat Major and Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto—the latter two works by Franz Liszt (1811-86).

The ambitious program’s lighter side is exemplified by Hot Canary by Paul Nero (1917-58) and Four Burlesques by Irwin Swack (1916-2006).

Though this concert is free, voluntary donations to the MacDowell Club Scholarship Fund are certainly welcome. “Solos and Ensembles” takes place in the Nancy Kendall Theater of the Joan Steele Stein Center at Cardinal Stritch University on Jan. 9.