The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW alumna and opera diva Brenda Rae returns to wow the crowd with her virtuosic singing while the UW Symphony Orchestra puts its strengths on display. | September 29, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The concert by the UW Symphony Orchestra on Sunday evening night was hyped largely for the appearance of the brilliant young soprano Brenda Rae (née Kinkert in Appleton, Wisconsin).

Soprano Brenda Rae

An undergraduate in the UW-Madison School of Music, and participant in University Opera productions a few years back, she has since moved on, through the Juilliard School, to a burgeoning career in German opera houses. This concert was the climax of her weekend return here to help promote the funding of the UW voice and opera program.

To her considerable credit, she chose as her scheduled vehicle Reinhold Gliere’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra, a rarely heard work that is quite fascinating.

Gliere uses the solo part in instrumental terms, as a vocalise, without words. The work might be described as a concerto for vowels and orchestra. It is meant to explore the sheer sound of the soprano voice, in all its possible colors.

The soloist (below) is heard in the slow first movement blending into a handsomely melodious Late Romantic orchestral sound, while the second movement tests a coloratura’s virtuosity in suggesting meaning through inflection rather than words.

Brenda Rae in Gliere

It is an extraordinary work, both lovely and clever, and too few sopranos have opportunities to try it out. Inevitably, though, there was the big-hit opera aria as an encore, no less than Violetta’s grand effusions in Act One of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La traviata.”

Brenda Rae (below) sang it as a true diva, to tonal and dramatic perfection. But it also served to point up the kind of operatic style that Gliere was suggesting, and affectionately spoofing, in his concerto.

Brenda Rae in Verdi

There was far more than just vocal display to this concert, however.

The opening item was no less than Claude Debussy’s challenging tone poem La Mer. The work calls for both skilled playing and artful leadership. Conductor James Smith gave another demonstration of his capacity to draw wonders from his student players — unfolding and blending the kaleidoscope of instrumental colors that Debussy manipulates variously in each of the three movements.

UW Symphony violins 2015

Though some of the audience (mostly students, I think) walked out at the intermission — more interested in performers than in music, I fear — the bulk of the audience that remained was treated to another of maestro Smith’s wonders, if not miracles. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, his last completed work, is a fiercely difficult and draining affair.

Smith and his students sounded like confident pros in a probing, powerful performance of this piece, one of the truly great orchestral scores of the 20th century. I think this performance will be found to stand up well against impending competition, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra plays the same work in its October program. (Don’t miss that!)

UW Symphony cellos 2015

Here we have “Madison’s third orchestra” – the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra being the other two — making a blazing trail of its own in the direct wake this past weekend of the MSO’s own magnificent September concerts.

Oh, how blessed musically is Madison for those who take the trouble to benefit from it all!

Advertisements

3 Comments »

  1. Many here have requested a “calendar” for upcoming musical events. Good idea.

    In the meantime, here’s a link to UW School of Music’s excellent online publication,”A Tempo”, that includes many (but not all) upcoming events, links and information. An excellent read with lots of stories. I especially liked their story about the UW First Regiment Band traveling to California in 1915 for a concert celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. With lots of information and pics from university archives.

    Other stories at the link include: information about the upcoming Brassfest II (that looks exciting, especially their brassy friends from Chicago); violist Nobuko Imai joining forces with the Pro Arte Quartet for a performance and master classes; the upcoming university opera production of “The Marriage of Figaro”; and more.

    https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/violist-nobuko-imai-brass-fest-university-opera-figaro/

    Comment by fflambeau — September 29, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

  2. […] On Sunday, Sept. 27, alumna soprano Brenda Rae and the UW Symphony wowed an audience of about 400 in Mills Hall with spectacular performances. Read a review by John Barker, professor emeritus of history. […]

    Pingback by Violist Nobuko Imai joins Pro Arte Quartet Oct. 7; Brass Fest II features solo trumpet, Oct. 9-11; UW Opera presents “Figaro,” Oct. 23-27 | A Tempo! — September 29, 2015 @ 11:08 am

  3. Great programming by Maestro Smith. And kudos to Brenda Rae for giving so generously of her talent and time to such a worthy cause.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 29, 2015 @ 7:03 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,115 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,764,648 hits
%d bloggers like this: