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Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013

MSO Catches the Spirit

Guest conductor Asher Fisch brings playfulness and drama

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Due to travel, Saturday evening was my first chance to hear the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in this new season. It’s always good to come back home, after hearing concerts in Europe, and be assured of what an excellent orchestra we have in this city. I realized anew how fundamental the MSO is to enhancing life in Milwaukee, and my life in particular. I simply would not want to live here without it.

We’ve heard principal clarinetist Todd Levy more than once in the Mozart Concerto in A Major, and he has set a high standard. Expectations were high. Levy did not disappoint. He is a master of sensitive phrasing, playing lovingly without becoming at all precious, and always with freshness and spontaneity. Levy catches the playful spirit, which is there in almost all of Mozart, even in this soulful music written so near the composer’s death. The second movement, rendered in barefaced poignancy, is one of the marvels in the repertory. I knew from experience that in this movement the quiet return to the opening theme would be a highlight of Levy’s performance. Nonetheless, I was caught off guard with tears in my eyes as I stopped breathing. How sublime it was.

Guest conductor Asher Fisch created exciting drama in Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman, wonderfully shaping the flow of the many dynamic and tempo shifts, the operatic emotions charging forth. I found the conducting of the Mozart concerto to be a little less convincing. The players lacked absolute crispness in this restrained music.

Many good things came in this performance of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. Fisch was best at emphasizing contrasts. The more dramatic and louder sections came forth with power and great spirit. To my ears the lighter, more humorous stretches of music were a little earthbound and slightly labored. So many players of the orchestra performed so well that there is not space to comment on everyone, but I will point out the rich and well-blended brass section. I was struck with new appreciation for the MSO strings, noting the lush, luxurious warmth of the sound.