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Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008

Piano Debut

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Two seasons ago Vladimir Feltsman commented negatively about the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Steinway and urged its replacement on a live local public television broadcast. That concert was re-broadcast, and apparently eventually led to the donors' gift of a new piano. The old MSO Steinway has a resonant ring, but also a loose rattle and unevenness. It was time to move on.


The new piano was debuted at MSO last weekend. In Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") I was as fascinated by hearing the instrument as by André Watts' performance. There was a little stiffness evident in the action, to be expected, but the piano has an even, firm, classic Steinway sound. It will need to be played more for its full ring to emerge; at present there is a lack of brilliance. But it sounds like an excellent instrument, and was a needed investment for the future.


A newbie on the concerto circuit would over-play on a new piano and suffer in the process. No one would expect Watts, an icon of American classical music for decades, to make that mistake. (He didn't.) I heard him experiment with tone interestingly at various times in the treble range on Friday night. Watts was slightly restless in the slow second movement, which rubbed against the spacious and timeless qualities of the music. Other than that, it was a bold performance well suited to the work.


When he leaves his post as music director after this season Andreas Delfs will leave-among many other positive results- legacy of Brahms at MSO. Brahms' Symphony No. 3 on Friday evening was another terrific performance. A few years ago Delfs led this symphony with controlled, nuanced phrasing, and stressed local detail. On Friday night a more organic, gestalt approach emerged, just as compelling. I respect Delfs for taking different approaches when he repeats repertory. There was a rich, Brahmsian balance of rigor and warmth, texture and lyricism. My quibbles: the end of the third and fourth movements could have been more tapered and convincing. But overall it was a great night at MSO.