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Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013

The Edo Factor

MSO celebrates early Beethoven

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The “Edo factor” was in full gear at the All-Beethoven Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert last Saturday evening. With music director Edo de Waart as conductor, the MSO is a disciplined, efficient entity. There were no guest artists in this meat-and-potatoes orchestral program, for which the strings were pared down to suit the four early Beethoven works played.

The concert included tight, crisp performances of the Overture to Coriolan, Overture to Egmont, Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 4, all familiar music but made fresh by being not so frequently programmed. I was struck with the let’s-go-for-it spirit in the playing, with a nimble yet intense, controlled rigor throughout. Subtle detail was executed with expert precision. The only noticeable concern was a few spots of uncharacteristic, out of sync unison in the first violins in Symphony No. 2.

Early Beethoven is like Mozart or Haydn on steroids. The classical era aesthetic is still central, but exaggerated with more drama and contrasts, rather like the relationship between Mannerist art and its Renaissance predecessor. When executed with sharpness, as was the case with the MSO, the music sizzles. The final section of the Overture to Egmont blazed in a fast gallop for the home stretch.

The difference between De Waart and a guest conductor must be primarily what happens in rehearsal. One can only guess that De Waart relentlessly insists on unity of attack and careful balance. He likely asks the orchestra to compensate, as well as is possible, for the major shortcoming of Uihlein Hall: pronounced acoustic deficiency that makes the musicians unable to hear one another easily. Even for an orchestra as excellent as the MSO this requires constant diligence to achieve the highest standard of playing.

This orchestra will never become all it can be hampered by the acoustics of the multi-purpose Marcus Center. I am convinced that if we had a new, state-of-the-art orchestra hall in Milwaukee, the MSO could easily enter into the rarified top tier of the world’s great orchestras, and become an even bigger source of pride for the city. Will any of us live to see it?
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