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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Shades of Spring

Classical Review

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Classical music is as much about acoustics and a sympathetic atmosphere as it is about literature and performance. I recently attended a Vienna Philharmonic concert in the famous Musikverein, a marvel of a Viennese concert hall. The warmth and intimacy of that great space leaves most modern halls, such as our Uihlein Hall, feeling vast and cold. What would our very good Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra—and its anonymous and coughing audience in the spacious dark—become in a better space?

The sudden burst of spring weather matched the theme of the MSO concert last weekend. Andreas Delfs led Beethoven Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”), which began with restraint in its first movement, certainly pastoral in spirit, but lacking a little energy. The centerpiece of the performance was the expansive second movement, one of the most sustained studies of serene loveliness ever composed. The babbling busyness was kept quiet while the first violins commented with easy grace. The symphony accumulated with effectiveness until the thrilling first climax of the finale. Somehow when that material came around again it did not soar as high the second time.

George Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony, composed in 1927 for a small chamber symphony, was an audacious introduction of edgy jazz into classical composition. It still sounds fresh. Andrews Sill was impressive in the prominent piano part. It's fun to ponder what the composer meant with his ending. Following dense, playful rhythms he briefly and ultimately slides into an ironic and sentimental waltz that seems a parody of Irving Berlin. 

The Antheil symphony was a short tonic between courses before heading into Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.  This ballet score for a story of primitive human sacrifice is a logical response to the Fauvist Parisian art of the period. Delfs has many strengths, but technical and rhythmic scores usually have not been his forte. However, this was a good and successful performance. It was a little careful at times; I missed a sense of raw wildness. This orchestra has plenty of muscle, on display here, but also evocative and subtle sounds for the many chamber-like moments parading by.