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Monday, Jan. 16, 2012

Rogister Takes MSO On Energetic Tour of the East

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With each concert the string section of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra seems to acquire greater dynamic precision and an increasingly subtle refinement, which brought a warm sense of repose to guest conductor Evan Rogister's beautiful performance of Tchaikovsky's gentle Serenade for Strings at MSO's Jan. 13 concert. His energetic approach gave the work necessary zip without sacrificing its familiar tunefulness.

The highlight of the evening may well have been principal trumpet player Mark Niehaus' riveting performance of Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian's exciting Trumpet Concerto, written in 1949-1950 in the sometimes-bombastic Armenian-Soviet mode of Khachaturian. Not enough praise can go to Niehaus' superb playing. He plunged into the work with the effortless aplomb of a guided laser beam, leaving no thrill unturned. Milwaukee is lucky to have him.

Sibelius' Second Symphony was not as well realized under Rogister's aggressive baton. The great Finnish composer's music evokes the barren domains surrounding the North Sea under the reflected icy glare of the Northern Lights. The music is far removed from the romantic warmth of the Russians and requires a special hand to glean its splendor—a calm sense of poise. By varying the tempos, usually on the rapid side, Rogister smeared important passages in the middle movements with forced intensity. Even the horns seemed raw at times and the orchestra kept struggling to keep up with the conductor's view of drama. Sibelius is not Tchaikovsky, and the performance failed to capture the majesty of the Finn's evocation of the arctic outdoors. There was no sense of awe. Yet the magnificent sonority of the Finale movement came through as the drama became more accessible to Rogister's youthful temperament.