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Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008

Monumental Classics

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   By 1809, (1770-1827) had become somewhat restive with the piano concerto form, tiring of its common use as a mere display piece for the soloist to show off his virtuoso skills. Thus for his next such work, he wrote no cadenza (in fact, he expressly forbade one), and instead thoroughly integrated the solo piano part into the fabric of the orchestra.

  Dubbed the Emperor Concerto by its admirers for its majestic sweep and broad themes, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 73, has retained its regal position within its genre for the past 200 years. More than half of the concerto's total length is taken up by the grand Allegro first movement. The ensuing Adagio, one of Beethoven's loveliest creations, transforms itself remarkably and ever so gradually into the principal theme of the glorious Rondo-Allegro finale.

  Just as Beethoven built upon and expanded existing forms, so too did Johannes Brahms (1833-97). His Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90, completed in 1883 and premiered the following year, is a remarkable synthesis of the dramatic power of his First Symphony and the gentility and warmth of his Second Symphony. The Allegro con brio first movement is decidedly heroic; the Andante second movement contemplative and introspective; the Poco Allegretto third movement is graceful and melodic. But the standout movement is the Allegro finale, which alternates tumultuously between exhilaration and gloom, ultimately (and quite surprisingly for its time) ending in serenity and gentle calm.

  Andreas Delfs conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in performances of these two monumental works (joined by acclaimed pianist Andre Watts for the concerto) at Uihlein Hall on Sept. 26-28.

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