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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joshua Bell Headlines Week of Brilliant Music

Classical Review

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In violinist Joshua Bell's performance with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last Wednesday evening, he proved why he is one of the top stars in classical music. With his signature mop top hair swinging, Bell was a dashing romantic hero in the Concerto in G minor by Max Bruch, gorgeous sound emanating from his instrument, filling the hall with a warm glow.

All flights of virtuosity were tastefully integrated into exciting music-making. Bell's heartfelt phrasing conjured strong emotion with a touch of glamour. His encore, a highly adapted set of variations on "Yankee Doodle," was an amazingly stunning display of what seemed to be every possible violin technique.

On the MSO weekend subscription concert, pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton showed plenty of youthful panache in the Concerto in E-flat Major for two pianos by Mozart. The sisters passed stylish phrases back and forth with lively energy and lovely pianistic tone. Unfortunately, the performance was seriously aesthetically marred by constant rushing of tempo in any instance of fast running notes.

Todd Levy, principal clarinetist of MSO, performed what is believed to be the first concerto ever composed for his instrument, Johann Stamitz's Concerto in B-flat Major. It was unusual and more than interesting to hear a solo clarinet in music of the pre-classical era. Levy is a master of phrase, sophistication, finesse and highly evolved tone. It's difficult to imagine a better performance.

Christopher Seaman was guest conductor for the week. He was best in leading the orchestra in the Bruch concerto, sensitively alternating quietness under the soloist with fully bloomed bursts of ensemble climax. Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks and Haydn's Symphony No. 100 ("Military") were not bad, but a bit vague, lacking the crispness of a true stylist.

Earlier in the week, in a Frankly Music concert at Wisconsin Lutheran College, pianist Adam Golka was brilliant in a performance of the complete set of 12 Etudes of Chopin's Opus 10. Golka was joined by Frank Almond and cellist Anthony Ross in a fascinating rendering of Schumann's obscure and rarely heard Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63.