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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008

More Mozart

Classical Review

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The snowstorm last week forced a cancelled rehearsal of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and prevented the arrival of the guest soloist, pianist Andreas Haefliger. Conductor Andreas Delfs quickly revised the plans to something the orchestra could do with just one rehearsal. William Schuman’s Symphony No. 5, which the MSO has never before played, and a Mozart piano concerto were scrapped. Instead, the new program included the Overture to Don Giovanni and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with Frank Almond stepping in as soloist. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 was retained as originally planned.

The first few minutes of Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni create a shiver of moral terror, foretelling the Don’s condemnation to hell. This good performance on Saturday night could have gone further in emphasizing the contrast between the serious, ponderous opening and the lighthearted buffa of the second section.

The first half of the program compared Mozart at the height of his prime, in Don Giovanni, with a concerto composed at age 17. His first violin concerto is a conservative, airy, giddy work. Even its second movement Adagio is a young man’s energy slowed down rather than true contemplation. Almond has obviously played this concerto before. I was a little concerned with his first few solo phrases, which had a bit more color and vibrato than would be ideal in this style. The tone quickly settled into Almond’s characteristic, fluid sound.

He shone in lines that descended low on the instrument and suddenly leaped up into a high treble range with a lyrical ring, a device Mozart often also used in vocal music. The fiery elegance of Almond’s cadenza of the final movement was a kick.

Beethoven’s expansive “Eroica” symphony ushered in the foundations of Romantic music of the 19th century. We have not heard this one from Delfs as often as Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 5 and 9. The first grand climax of the sprawling and tragic second movement was the high point, expertly paced for chilling effect. The horn trio hunting calls in the Scherzo, played with lightness and a lovely blend, brought a smile.