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Monday, March 5, 2012

Virtuoso Performances of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky at MSO

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When Jean Sibelius was in his mid-teens, he was studying hard to become a famous concert violinist. Indeed, he did become a fine musician, but fate had other plans and Sibelius soon found himself drawn toward composition instead of performance.

Consequently, his many years of earnest effort as a violinist contributed to what would become his only essay in the concerto form, the Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 (1905). In this brilliant three-movement work, Sibelius struck an ideal balance between instrumental prowess and more purely structural and emotional values. Not surprisingly, the violinist takes up the expressive main theme of the Allegro moderato first movement and rarely relinquishes the spotlight.

Shortly after composing his own violin concerto, Peter Tchaikovsky completed his Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (1878) while convalescing after a nervous breakdown brought on by an ill-fated marriage. Tchaikovsky spiraled into a maelstrom of depression and even contemplated suicide, but in the end it was music that saved him. As is often the case with music emerging from a composer's emotional turmoil, the results were superb; the Fourth, filled with imaginative instrumental scoring and rich melodies, ranks with Tchaikovsky's finest achievements.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Jun Märkl, performs both of these remarkable works at the Marcus Center's Uihlein Hall, March 9-10. Caroline Goulding, a “precociously gifted virtuoso” of great technical polish and musical maturity (according to Gramophone magazine), is the soloist for the Sibelius concerto.