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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Burst of Mozart

Graceful, elegant performance with the MSO

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The young Italian-German violinist Augustin Hadelich is the rare artist who can make Mozart sizzle. Many musicians find the refined style of Mozart by containing expression. Hadelich seemed released by it. At Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening, Mozart’s Concerto No. 5 (K. 219) came to life in a fresh burst of energy, like long-awaited spring.

Hadelich played with crisp, spirited precision, and with a ringing tone of brilliant sheen. His outgoing personality as an artist came through, tempered by graceful elegance, connecting with the audience more than many virtuosos. After pronounced applause he let it rip in an encore of Paganini Caprice No. 24, a dazzling display of nearly every possible violin technique.

MSO is lucky to have such a capable associate conductor in Francesco Lecce-Chong. This concert was his most impressive so far. He led a colorful, lively account of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, coaxing the orchestra to play at its very best. Lecce-Chong was vivid and engaging in Mozart’s Music from Idomeneo, five movements extracted from the opera. The performance could have had a sharper edge at times, but that’s a minor quibble. Operatic excerpts continued with the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, rich and beguiling. I wanted more limpid stretch in the phrase occasionally, and the sustained harmonic tension might have been better highlighted in the famous final trio.

The Strauss pieces were a triumph for the horns, led by principal Matthew Annin. In almost any repertory my ear is constantly drawn to the beautiful phrasing of principal oboist Katherine Young Steele.

On various trips in the last two months I have heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Weighing differences between excellent orchestras is a luxury sport. Returning to a concert in Milwaukee confirmed something I already knew: the present edition of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra plays at an international standard that would be defined as better than good anywhere. But the best orchestra in the world could not reach its musical potential in the acoustically unfriendly Uihlein Hall.