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Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010

MSO, Johannes Moser’s Intriguing Shostakovich

Classical Review

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The dark, cold winter has always been a good time for listening to substantial music, such as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert heard last Saturday night. Johannes Moser, a young German-Canadian, was soloist in Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 for Cello, part of major repertory written by Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten and others for Mstislav Rostropovich. This concerto, written in 1959, captures the multilayered balanceof ironic detachment and mysteriously personal statement that is the heart of Shostakovich’s embattled Soviet-era art. I’ve always thought of the poignant second movement as a Cold War lament of paranoia.

Moser’s performance was intriguing. I was interested tohear where he was headed, even if I did not always agree with the destination. At times he played with a deep sense of phrase and drama, with crisp rhythm. He was a sincere reflection of the music at his best. At other times I wondered about the core of his tone, which seemed to vary beyond deliberate coloristic choices. Some habits were off-putting, as in a fully extended arm on phrase-ending down-bows that distorted the music, and what I would describe as needlessly-calling-attention-to-extreme-effort playing in the final movement. This kind of musical overacting rings as false as a hammy actor chewing up the scenery. Krystof Pipal on horn and Todd Levy on clarinet both played with gorgeously rich tone in featured solosof the second movement.

Every couple of years I come to a symphonyby Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) with new discovery. Each time around the music falls right out of my head by the time I encounter the composer again. Guest conductor Paul Daniel led Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”), composed during World War I as an affirmation of life. The piece does not conjure enough conflict to feel triumphant. Daniel was good at giving it long-phrased shape. I questioned a couple of transitions, although I admit that this was an odd piece to get a take on a conductor. The concert began withthe fascinating Sinfonietta by Scottish composer James MacMillan.