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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

MSO’s Season Finale

Gilbert Varga conducts Tchaikovsky and Mozart

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Photo by Gabrielle Revere
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Guest conductor Gilbert Varga returned to conduct the final classical concert of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra season last weekend. The highlight was Karen Gomyo’s account of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin, with every note and nuance emerging with clarity and exquisite taste. Besides infinite, fluent technique, Gomyo’s elegant phrasing revealed insightful, captivating artistic touches.

The performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro was good enough but a little lifeless, lacking sparkle. Varga was more persuasive leading Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, performed with sweep and color. Principal clarinetist Todd Levy’s solos were a master class in phrasing, with trills that conjured magic.

Ravel’s Bolero is an audience pleaser, paced well by Varga, with its famous tune passed around the orchestra as the music gradually increases in intensity and volume. Lots of orchestra members had a chance to shine. I confess that hearing Bolero about once every 10 years is enough for me.

With this classical season nearly over, a brief look back on memorable performances is irresistible. John Adams’ pieces at MSO were a sophisticated high point, with baritone Christopher Maltman in The Wound Dresser, Timothy McAllister in the Saxophone Concerto and Leila Josefowicz in the Violin Concerto. Susan Babini’s performance of the Schumann Concerto for Cello is still with me. Of Edo de Waart’s MSO performances, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 stands out as a crowning achievement.

Present Music created an unforgettable event in September with 99 percussionists performing John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. I will not soon forget soprano Dominique Labelle, with Four Nations Ensemble, in the Clérambault cantata Médée on the Early Music Now series. It was perhaps the best Frankly Music season ever, with several highlights: the Mendelssohn Octet, cellist Joseph Johnson in Britten’s Suite No. 3, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and Christopher Taylor astounding in selections from Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus.

By far, the red-hot emotional peak of the season was Frank Almond’s recital at the Wilson Center a few days after the Stradivari violin he plays was recovered. What a roller coaster we all went through with that story!