The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra takes The Ear over the rainbow and turns in an impressive season-closing concert that leaves him looking forward to the next season

May 3, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

To The Ear, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) just keeps getting better and better, each concert building on the last one.

Take the final concert of this season last Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

It proved typical WCO fare in the quality of the soloists and orchestra players and in the variety of the program.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) continues to mold his group into the tightest of ensembles. You know you are hearing precision when the rests and silences become as important to the music as the sound. And when you are listening, you feel how relaxing it is to rule out worrying about raggedness.

Here’s a rundown:

The concert opened with a tried-and-true masterpiece, the “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by Maurice Ravel (below). Each of the five dance movements pays homage to a friend of Ravel who fell in World War I, the centennial of which, the gracious Sewell explained, is being marked this year. The Ear likes such tie-ins. (The Ear also loves the original piano version, which has a sixth movement, a fabulous toccata conclusion.)

The Symphony No. 2 in C Major by Romantic master Robert Schumann is not The Ear’s favorite Schumann symphony – that would be No. 4 – and The Ear thinks that Schumann’s orchestral writing is generally not up to his piano writing, his chamber music or his songs.

Indeed, long-form music was not Schumann’s strength, as his many miniature movements in his longer suites and his fragmentary esthetic attest. Perhaps it had to do with his mental illness; perhaps it was just his preference and temperament, much as was the case with his contemporary Chopin, who also preferred the miniature to the epic.

Still, the work proved enjoyable and moving, especially in the vivacious and energetic Scherzo that was executed so precisely and then in the poignant slow movement, which was beautifully shaped with the romantic yearning that Schumann (seen below, with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann) was peerless at expressing. (You can hear the third movement, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And once again, the smaller size of the chamber orchestra — versus a full symphony orchestra — created transparency. Listeners got to hear inner voices and the interplay of parts in all sections of the orchestra that they might otherwise miss.

But the piece that everyone came to hear was the finale: The world premiere of a Two-Piano Concerto by American composer Thomas Cabaniss (below top). The WCO commissioned the piece with help from two local patrons (Jun and Sandy Lee) and the soloists, Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn (below bottom), who have ties to Madison.

The work and its three movements – “Surfaces,” “Disturbances” and “Revelation” — did not disappoint and received a rapturous reception from the large audience, which demanded and received a piano-four hands encore.

The concerto struck The Ear as perfectly fitting its title, “Double Rainbow.” You heard elements of Maurice Ravel and John Adams. But you did NOT hear the typical standout solo playing of, say, a piano concerto by Beethoven or Brahms, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.

This was a much more atmospheric ensemble work that shimmered and glittered, much like a rainbow. It almost seemed in many places similar to a Baroque concerto grosso, with the piano incorporated into the orchestral texture rather than standing out against it.

That is not to say the concerto, more mood than melody, wasn’t impressive. The score seemed very difficult, even virtuosic, and it certainly had moments that allowed the two soloists to show off their first-rate, Juilliard-trained chops.

Will this new concerto join other two-piano staples, such as the famous two-piano concertos by Poulenc and Mozart? It would take more hearings to be sure, but The Ear suspects not. It will surely get repeated hearings, especially from the Shinns, without becoming a go-to default piece in the two-piano repertoire. But he could well be wrong.

In any case, one would be hard put to find a better summary of the WCO approach to music-making than this outstanding concert that combined the old and the new, that mixed works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and performed them with technical precision and moving interpretation.

Bravos to all.

And all the more reason to look forward, after the WCO’s six summer outdoor Concerts on the Square from June 28 to Aug. 2, to the next indoors Masterworks season, both of which you can find here:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances


Classical music: The Madison Summer Choir will perform works by late German and English Romantic composers, including Brahms, Parry and Vaughan Williams, on this coming Saturday night.

June 22, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison Summer Choir write:

The Madison Summer Choir (below) is an auditioned choir of more than 70 voices performing a cappella, piano-accompanied and choral-orchestral works.

Madison Summer Choir

When the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music eliminated UW Summer Choir from its budget after 2008, Ben Luedcke (below) “picked up the baton” to ensure that this student and community singing opportunity and tradition were not lost.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Now in its seventh summer, Luedcke continues to conduct the group, open to college students and community members, for just 14 rehearsals over six weeks, culminating in a full concert.

Existing just for this short season, the choir is supported by the singers, friends and businesses in the community, and the audience, as well as the UW-Madison School of Music rehearsal and concert facilities.

For this summer, the concert program features “The Searching Soul: German and Late-English Romanticism.” (Below is the famous Romantic painting used on the poster for the Madison Summer Choir this year.)

Madison Summer Choir 2015 theme

The concert will be presented on this coming Saturday evening, June 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus at 455 North Park Street.

Tickets are $15 for the public; $10 for students. They can be purchased in advance (for delivery or will-call) from any choir member, or bought at the door.

The concert will open with two works by Johannes Brahms (below), “Nächtens” (At Night) and “Sehnsucht” (Longing).

brahms3

Those are followed by three movements by Sir Hubert Parry (below) in “Songs of Farewell (1916–1918)”: “My Soul There Is a Country,” “I Know My Soul Hath Power” and “Never Weather Beaten Sail.”

hubert parry

The second half features two choral works with orchestra. The Madison Summer Choir is the only ensemble performing full-scale choral and orchestral works in the summer in Madison.

Psalm 42” (1837-38) by Felix Mendelssohn is a cantata consisting of seven movements which include full choir, soprano solo, women’s choir, and a quintet of soprano solo with men’s chorus. Soprano soloist will be Chelsie Propst (below), who has performed with the choir twice before.

Chelsie Propst USE

The concert will conclude with “Toward the Unknown Region” (1907) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below top), a setting of the text by Walt Whitman (below bottom). You can hear a massive performance of the work at the BBC Proms in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Walt Whitman 2

Information on past concerts by the Madison Summer Choir and photos of the choir are on the website: www.madisonsummerchoir.org


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

    Join 1,190 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,047,068 hits
%d bloggers like this: