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Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013

The Structure of Bruckner

MSO raises the bar

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I am not alone in admitting that I can’t completely embrace the symphonies of Anton Bruckner. The surface sound of his music, its harmonies and gorgeous sonorities, is readily appreciated. It’s a grasp of structure and emotional narrative within his abstracted romanticism that has eluded me. But I had an “aha!” Bruckner experience during Friday’s Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performance of Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, most commonly known as Romantic. For the first time for me, this composer’s music was thoroughly compelling and thrilling.

Master conductor Edo de Waart was the sure guide through the symphony’s vast landscape. One of de Waart’s many strengths is shaping large-scale works with precision and sensitivity to detail, enveloping them in a strong overarching architecture. As is typical of his performances, the music emerged with clear-eyed lucidity and no trace of sentimental indulgence. Bruckner’s Fourth was easily the high point so far of this MSO season.

De Waart has raised the musical level of the MSO immeasurably by expanding and fine-tuning its technical capacities. There is definitely an “Edo factor” within the MSO. When he is on the podium the orchestra is fully and completely its best self, playing with sophisticated ensemble and palpable unity of purpose. The MSO has never sounded better. Matthew Annin, principal horn, played his many solos with lyrical substance and beautiful tone, leading the horn section’s admirable sound. Trombones and tuba were rich and powerful in their signature statements.

In another section of Friday’s performance, Joseph Kalichstein created a lovely bell-like tone in the soft passages of Mozart’s Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K. 482. This is arguably the composer’s greatest piano concerto. There was much to like in Kalichstein’s graceful performance, though occasionally the faster passages were a bit blurred and tempo was not always entirely settled. A delicious episode from the orchestra came in the flute/bassoon duet, wonderfully phrased by Sonora Slocum and Theodore Soluri.

MSO players were also featured in chamber music last week at the Conservatory of Music with Tuesday’s premier performance of Bowing Rogue, a violin duo comprised of Ilana Setapen and Margot Schwartz. These ladies have flair, style and a knack for choosing music.
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