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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012

The MSO’s Dramatic, Understated Masterpieces

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One of the founding fathers of German Romanticism, Carl Maria von Weber, is today best remembered for his seminal opera, Der Freischutz (1821). Weber was the quintessential Romantic artist, turning to myth, folklore, history and poetry for inspiration as he strove to create a convincing synthesis of word and music. Often performed in concert, Weber’s Overture to Der Freischutz, with its lush orchestration and exquisite tone painting, is a true gem. It opens the next concert by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Two years after Der Freischutz’s premiere, Franz Schubert was elected an honorary member of the Styrian Music Society in Graz, Austria. Though this was but an inconsequential appointment, Schubert was delighted at the honor, and to show his gratitude, he began composing a new symphony. He completed the first two movements and sketches for a third, but then became increasingly ill. He submitted the two movements to the Society, which stuffed them in a drawer where they lay forgotten for 40 years. Ironically enough, the long-forgotten work would become one of Schubert’s most famous pieces, Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, the “Unfinished Symphony,” a large, dramatic yet understated masterpiece.

Unlike Schubert, Franz Liszt enjoyed both a long life and great fame. His Hungarian origins proved a great asset, inspiring an extensive body of work, perhaps none more famous than his set of Hungarian Rhapsodies. The best known of these is No. 2 in D Minor, with its contrasting slow and fast sections and folk-music-based melodies. Liszt’s dazzling expansion of the range of musical expression imbues all his output, most idiosyncratically so in his inventive Hungarian-flavored pieces such as the D Minor Rhapsody.

A century later, folk music likewise inspired Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, which he called the “only serious piece” among his folk-influenced works. This three-movement concerto possesses attractive, accessible themes and a highly virtuosic handling of orchestral forces.

The MSO under conductor Christoph Konig performs all four works Nov. 9-10 in Uihlein Hall.