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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Baroque Masterpiece

Classical Review

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  The Mass in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the marvels of musical accomplishments. Its composer seemed to believe that God is, among other attributes, the ultimate intellect. This music achieves its exaltation through rigorous depth, exploring the expansion of every Baroque musical form and compositional device.

  The Mass in B Minor, performed by Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last weekend, is a mountain Andreas Delfs obviously wanted to climb with the orchestra and chorus. It was an inspired journey. There are certain trade-offs that are givens when a traditional symphony orchestra and chorus present a major Baroque work such as this. Transparency, due to the size of the chorus, is sacrificed for majesty and grandeur, affects that a smaller, more agile ensemble could not achieve.

  The though there are vocal soloists and orchestral solos, the chorus is the center of attention. In my 24 years in Milwaukee, the two conductors who have best achieved heightened results with the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus are Nicholas McGegan and Delfs. So many choral works have blossomed memorably under Delfs’ leadership, making the chorus better than it would be without him.

  In the 19th century, 70 years after the death of Bach, when his music was unknown, Mendelssohn was the catalyst for a revival of interest in the Baroque master. Earlier in the week Frankly Music presented a concert of Mendelssohn’s two greatest chamber works: the Piano Trio No. 1 and the Octet for Strings. As is the custom, Frank Almond spoke about the composer, quite eloquently. Pianist Stefanie Jacob was the standout in the Trio, giving her clean, athletic touch to this very challenging part. Almond and cellist Joseph Johnson match well, their instruments and playing complementing one another.

The Octet, composed at the age of 16, is a wonder. Almond assembled an astonishing group of top string players, bringing into town violinists Ellen dePasquale, Colin Jacobsen and Alexander Kerr; violists Nicholas Cords and Matthew Young; and cellist Edward Arron to join him and Johnson. It was a knockout performance that would have been a highlight in any city in the world.
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