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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Inspired Composers, Stimulating Works at Next MSO Concert

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William Walton (1902-83) is part of the triumvirate of great English 20th-century composers (his cohorts being Vaughan Williams and Britten) though his final output is considerably smaller than theirs. He composed but two symphonies and three concertos during his long life—the first for viola (1929), the last for cello (1956), and at midpoint the Violin Concerto of 1939. Written for Jascha Heifetz, Walton's Violin Concerto has many hidden depths beneath a "dainty and luxurious" surface, as Virgil Thompson described. Though full of quirky surprises and complex rhythms, it remains among the most lyrical of Walton's works. The first movement is not only the slowest but also the most demanding of the soloist, the second is mostly fast but with a songlike midsection, and the finale ends in a spectacular flourish.

In the next Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert the soloist for this work is the award-winning, Israeli-American violinist Gil Shaham.

A great Romantic symphony is also on the program, but it was not a talented instrumentalist that inspired Hector Berlioz (1803-69) to compose his epochal Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14 (1830). Rather, it was an unrequited infatuation with Harriet Smithson, a pretty Irish actress who had come to Paris to perform Shakespeare (another Berlioz hero). The work's five movements (Dreams-Passions, A Ball, Scene in the Fields, March to the Scaffold and Dream of a Witches' Sabbath) all contain a signature melody representing Smithson that is ensconced in music that is at turns rapturous, gentle, or verging on the hallucinogenic.

Edo de Waart leads the MSO in both of these works March 11-12 at Uihlein Hall.
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