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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Goulding Dazzles in Impressive MSO Concert

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I have written often in the last decade of the steady improvement in the quality of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Listening anew on Saturday evening I heard an ensemble moving into a new realm of refined excellence. (Due to working abroad, this was only the second time I have heard the MSO this season.)

The key factor in the transformation of the MSO is, of course, Edo de Waart's musical leadership, and his hand in guiding important player changes. De Waart has also insightfully altered the orchestra's setup on the stage. The current positions of the brass and woodwinds sections seem to be especially advantageous.

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 allowed for the display of many of the orchestra's assets. The trumpets, trombones and tuba formed a tight, even, brilliant sound, with players matching one another in blend. The sound of this section has noticeably changed this season. There were notable, beautiful solos from Ted Soluri on bassoon and Todd Levy on clarinet. The strings sounded luxuriously full, flattered by Tchaikovsky's lush writing. The cello section, with the new principal Susan Babini, was wonderfully rich when featured in the second movement.

Guest conductor Jun Märkl led with lyricism and efficiency. Tempos and pacing were a good fit for the MSO sound. A few small spots of minor ensemble entrance issues in soft sections made me wonder if his conducting was always clear enough. One can do a barely perceptible, quiet beat pattern if conducting an ensemble regularly, but a one-shot guest conductor must be technically clear at all times.

Caroline Goulding, a 19-year-old who has gained much attention in the last year, dramatically served up the Sibelius violin concerto, leaving absolutely no doubt of her enormous talent and very probable important future career. Goulding, a diminutive and childlike presence, plays with romantic fire and gusto. It is not her tone itself that makes the impression. Rather, it is the style and heartfelt verve of her dazzling playing, and her personal in-the-moment connection to the music. Goulding seems possibly the most important young violinist to come along since Hilary Hahn hit the scene 15 years ago.