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Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

Weekend Chamber Music

Classical Review

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Present Music explored yet another venue in two concerts last weekend at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, home to the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and other organizations. I caught the Saturday performance. The space, a multipurpose room with moveable seating and a wooden floor, has a clean, true sound with just the right amount of resonance. It may be the best place in Milwaukee for chamber music.

Though brief in total length, this was a substantial program. The terrific musicians of Present Music shone at their very best in Court Studies from The Tempest (2005), five succinct and affecting movements by the brilliant British composer Thomas Ads based on his opera, for violin (Eric Segnitz), cello (Karl Lavine), clarinet (William Helmers) and piano (Phillip Bush). Ads finds unique harmonic color with a steely core, sometimes vaguely reminiscent of Benjamin Britten.

Among other pieces by Arvo Prt, Charles Wuorinen and Saed Haddad, Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread, a play by David Ives, was performed in an amusing rhythmic speech style straight out of the "Gotta Know the Territory" number from The Music Man. The Marx Brothers (1938) by Henry Brant was more interesting for its echoes of popular music of the era than for the broad antics of the performance, though it was certainly some fun.

Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra (MCO), recently reorganized, presented a Sunday afternoon concert of French music to an audience of 200 at Calvary Presbyterian Church, a space that flatters enveloping warmth in sound. In fast music orchestral detail was a little foggy. Conductor Richard Hynson favored Romantic readings stressing ebb and flow of phrase in Faur's Pavane, a chamber arrangement of Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin and Mother Goose Suite. Michelle Hynson was a competent piano soloist in Faur's Ballade, Op. 19, though the music could have used more refined touch and technique.

MCO is a better ensemble now, particularly in its string ensemble, than seasons ago. A chamber orchestra needs exquisite details of balance and nuance. I hope this good group aims to strive further toward those ideals.

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