The Well-Tempered Ear

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra shines in Beethoven’s Seventh

October 13, 2009
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Union Theater opened its 90th concert series Friday night with a searing performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under its new music director Edo de Waart (below right). dewarthongkong

The tempi were upbeat and the veteran de Waart pulled apart the score to allow different sections to dialogue with each other as they reassembled it. (The opera composer Richard Wagner once called Beethoven’s Seventh, the “apotheosis of the dance” though I’ll be damned if I can find parts of that symphony that seem so eminently danceable. But then Wagner was wrong about Mendelssohn too.)

It was a remarkable performance that drew an instant standing ovation from the audience of about 850 – a pretty good three-quarters house, considering the smaller houses last season and considering that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra held its own season opener, marking its 50th anniversary, that same night.

I wasn’t at the WCO, so I hope readers will give me and my readers some idea of how that concert went.

But the much played Beethoven Seventh was simply one of the best performances I have ever heard live or recorded, and I’ve heard some outstanding ones.

Other pieces on the program  — Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni” and Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello – fared well but not that well.

Both suffered a bit, at least to The Ear’s point of view, from a kind of dry, some might say Dutch, approach that seemed to need an energy boost. I don’t like too much schmaltz, but you can’t skip the fat without skimping on some of the juice and flavor.

Mozart’s overture should seem downright scary or spooky, almost Halloween-like, since it is about an irreverent, even blasphemous, Don Juan who is on his unrepentant way to Hell and about the supernatural event of a statue coming to life.

The Brahms is late Brahms, which is not to say easy Brahms but downright hard Brahms to play. The work is rarely performed, perhaps for that reason. It can seem fragmentary, and this time it did – like some of the later piano pieces, the intermezzi and the capriccios. It was very good, but not great. It seemed simply to need more zip, a slightly faster tempo to hold it all together and make it cohere that added an excitement to both its lyricism and drama.

The soloists — Concertmaster Frank Almond (below left) and principal cellist Joseph Johnson — played superbly, with and against each other and the orchestra, especially in the songful and soulful slow movement and the sprightly, folk dance-like conclusion.frankalmond2

But overall, I found myself wanting more.

“More sound!” my inner voice kept shouting.  “I want more sound.”

After all, one of the joys of a symphony concert is the feeling of being washed over by sound the way you lie on the sand or jump into deep water to let the waves and water roll over you at the beach.

Ah — to feel swamped in beauty, drowning in sound!

That’s when loud is good.

Was it the playing? I don’t think so since they musicians certainly seemed to be putting out a lot of effort.

Was it a because of a smaller-than-usual touring group? Maybe, but it didn’t seem that small.

Maybe it was the hall and its acoustics, especially since the symphony seemed seated further back on the stage than is wise for the best sonics. Perhaps moving them closer to the apron would have helped.

Maybe it was the new and darker floor that absorbs more sound though that seems far-fetched. If true, we’ll know when other groups and soloists perform.

What I do know is that loudness is part of the experience you go for, at least in the loud parts, when you go to a symphony orchestra concert.

So what did you think?

Did you like the playing?

The interpretations?

Was the volume of sound sufficient?

How did the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Concert in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater go?

Please start answering. It’s getting lonely, always giving and rarely receiving.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

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