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.
By John W. Barker
The concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) on Wednesday night was one I might have designed myself: two of my favorite orchestral pieces, both by Felix Mendelssohn, and the world’s greatest cello concerto, by one of my favorite composers, Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear superstar Cellist Yo-Yo Ma play the first movement with the New York Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
For the concerto, the soloist was young Andrew Briggs (below), currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. He is clearly an artist with great promise. For so grand a work, he will grow in confidence and tonal richness with time. But he already has the measure of the piece, and I must say that he gave me about the most satisfying experience of it that I have ever heard.
The reason for that is not only his playing skill but also his natural rapport with an audience: He communicates. His facial expressions, especially in orchestral passages, suggested he was in awe of the wonders of the work as he performed, while suggesting as well his joy at sharing this discovery of them with his listeners.
The standing ovation he received was not just perfunctory but a cordial, well-earned response to what he had given the audience.
This concerto is a big piece for the orchestra, too. And on top of that were the demands of the two other works, which framed the concerto.
Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture and his Third Symphony, the “Scottish,” are extraordinarily evocative compositions, products of the composer’s experiences visiting the British Isles. They demand a lot from their performers.
There were, to be sure, rough spots here and there, especially in the symphony’s scherzo movement. But the playing was robust and committed. Maestro Steve Kurr (below) worked up an unusual degree of excitement in the overture, and differentiated nicely the differing moods of the symphony’s four movements.
Earnest hard work with eminently listenable results makes a Middleton Community Orchestra concert like this one a genuine treat. Those who missed it lost out on a lot of pleasure.