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Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

From Baroque to New Music

An evening out with Pallade Musica, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

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The vocal influence on the Pallade Musica concert of Italian Baroque music for violin, cello and continuo was unmistakable last Saturday evening at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, presented by Early Music Now. This Montreal-based ensemble of four young musicians was the 2012 winner of the Early Music America Baroque Performance Competition. All players are wonderfully talented: Tanya LaPerrière (violin), Elinor Frey (cello), Esteban La Rotta (mastering a giant theorbo), and Mylène Bélanger (harpsichord). Together and alone they played with expressive and elegant verve, fluency, style and grace.

The dramatic contrasts so present in Italian music of the 17th century were approached with freedom and freshness. Works by many lesser-known composers (Dario Castello, Alessandro Piccinini, Francesco Rognoni, Giovanni Paolo Cima, Tarquinio Merula and others) dominated the concert, making new revelations of the era. Bélanger’s blazing account of a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti was a highlight.

Later on that same evening, Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter gave a bewitching account of Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The playing was both hot-blooded and refined. From ghostlike, ethereal soft passages to grand sweeps of emotion, her nimble fingers seemed to pour out the strong personality of an artist on fire. The second movement was the most seductive bit of poetry I’ve encountered in some time.

In the Delfs era the MSO played Brahms (a little too often) with thick warmth, as if the music was bathed in sepia tones. It was compelling, if a little fuzzy in retrospect. Conductor Edo de Waart’s approach to Brahms instead scrubs away that patina, presenting clarity and transparency (not a surprise to anyone who has heard his performances with the orchestra). In his second time around with the MSO in Symphony No. 2, De Waart led a sparkling account that made this old favorite sound brand new. My ears continually drank in details not previously noticed.

Throughout his career De Waart has championed new music. Nocturne for Orchestra by 28-year-old Michael Ippolito is an attractive, colorful, innovative work that conjures both whimsical dreaminess and a near-nightmare wild ride. Here is a young composer who works with the traditional orchestra in new ways and still retains audience appeal.