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Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009

Radiant Rachmaninoff

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Though the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra's Jan. 25 concert had the apt title "Rachmaninoff & Hollywood," Maestro Alexander Platt also dubbed it the "Diaspora concert." All its works spanned the war-torn 1930s and '40s and most of its composers had escaped totalitarianism's tight grip on Europe.

The concert opened with a spirited performance of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Overture to Captain Blood, one of several Erroll Flynn swashbucklers Korngold scored for Hollywood. The WSO brass was especially effective in this rousing piece of classic film music. This was followed by David Raskin's music from Laura, dominated in sumptuous sonority by strings. Then came music from Gone With the Wind, featuring Max Steiner's "Tara Theme," another fine example of mood setting.

Violinist Lara St. John was the soloist for Korngold's Violin Concerto, a lush and challenging work given a bravura performance.

The concert's second half consisted of a work Platt admitted has been a favorite his whole life, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44, whose most noteworthy feature is the music's radiance-lyrical, dramatic, extremely colorful. The first movement requires expansive warmth, the second enchantment and fantasy, and the third an outpouring of exultation and jubilation. The whole work is tinged with nostalgia. The performance made Platt's acknowledgement of affection for the Rachmaninoff Third superfluous, for the WSO has seldom been as tight, as harmonious, as precise, or indeed, as radiant.