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Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

Perlman, Kanda Star in MSO Concerts

Classical Review

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It’s an event when the great violin legend Itzhak Perlman comes to town. As guest of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Perlman played a sparkling but modest piece last Thursday, Mozart’s Concerto No. 5 in A Major.

One can’t help but detect a diminishment of Perlman’s powers in recent years, but his distinctive vibrant tone, his obvious love of music, his playful character and the phrasing of a master are still very much present. The easy brilliance of the first movement cadenza and the sweet poignancy of the second movement cadenza were highlights. Two romantic encores by Kreisler were lightweight but charming. The audience, who gave Perlman a standing ovation before he even played, obviously and appropriately feels great love for him.

Guest conductor James Gaffigan led a good-natured performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio, full of Turkish bombast. The all-Mozart program also included Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”), which was repeated on the Friday evening subscription concert. Gaffigan’s strengths are energy and a light touch. The first and fourth movements were more convincing than the inner two movements. I found the second movement a little unsettled in tempo, missing out on creating transcendent Mozartian calm. The Friday evening performance was marred by a player in the first violin section (fourth desk, to be precise) who was overtly out of sync with her section. I began noticing this in the second movement, and it became an annoying distraction thereafter. It was a pleasure to hear the quirky Americana of Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 3 on the Friday concert.

Principal trombonist Megumi Kanda, one of the MSO’s best, was featured on the weekend concert in the premiere of Geoffrey Gordon’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra. It showed every possible sound the trombone can make, from high to low, performed spectacularly by Kanda. The music itself is a triumph of craft over content, in a dated style heavily influenced by the 1960-’70s work of Ligeti and other composers. As a showpiece for trombone solo, the concerto succeeds. As a piece of music, it is questionable, to say the least.