It had been a few months since Andreas Delfs was last on the podium at Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. As he nears the end of his long tenure as music director, he has enduring affection and good will from the audience, obvious in the smiles and applause that greeted him. Beyond musical accomplishments, Delfs has been a good public face and an articulate spokesman for the MSO. Most music directors cannot easily play that role, and he should be commended for it.
Karl Goldmark's In Springtime, a 19th-century rarity, reminded us of Delfs' German/European sensibility. Very few American-born conductors would come up with this programming. Perhaps it was wishful thinking in early March to be considering spring, but this is lovely music with hints of depth. Ensemble was a little questionable at the outset but tightened up enough. In this piece and throughout the concert I noticed something I had never heard before at MSO: a somewhat mismatched blend of sound in the first violins in medium loud to loud playing, coming from the back of the section. Was it due to changes in players or positioning?
In Grieg's piano concerto William Wolfram's gorgeous tone at any volume level was arresting. He played with a satisfying sense of sweep and style, without any empty show (a danger in this warhorse concerto). There was emotion in the first movement cadenza that I did not know was possible. The horn section was well represented in beautifully played solos from Krystof Pipal.
We have heard Delfs conduct Brahms' second symphony a few times. This time around it had a leisurely, spacious quality. It was not the sharpest of performances, but had warmth and phrasing that has been Delfs' strong suit in Brahms at MSO. In horn solos William Barnewitz displayed his glorious tone, a constant MSO pleasure.
Earlier in the week I caught a rich recital at the Pabst Theater by MSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson and pianist Stefanie Jacob. Benjamin Britten's lengthy and contemplative Suite No. 3 for solo cello was a bold choice. Johnson pulled it off with grace.