The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra deliver outstanding performances of great music by Mozart and Brahms

December 12, 2017
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The program for the first concert this season by the UW Choral Union (below), mercifully, had nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, and just offered great music.

There were only two works, one by Brahms and the other by Mozart. Surefire!

Johannes Brahms composed three relatively short works for chorus, without soloists, and orchestra. Of these, I wish conductors would get busy with two of them in particular. The Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates) and Nänie are simply superb works by one of the greatest of all choral composers.

The third, the Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54, I would rate just a bit lower for musical content, but that is the one of the three that is more frequently performed, and that was the one we heard.

That said, there is much quite beautiful music in the piece, which sets a poem of Friedrich Hölderlin that moves from anxiety to desperation. Brahms (below) preceded the choral setting with a serene introduction that—to satisfy his aesthetics if not the poet’s—he repeats at the end to restore order.

Conductor Beverley Taylor (below) employed rather broad tempos, but this enabled her to bring out some of the melodic material with great beauty.

And, with a chorus of some 124 singers, she was able to give the music tremendous sonority, if a bit at the price of German diction. With the very good UW Symphony Orchestra in fine fettle, too, this was an excellent performance that should alert listeners to neglected treasures.

The main work was the unfinished “Great” Mass in C minor, K. 427, by Mozart (below). This is music inspired by the composer’s marriage and by the new (for him) artistic climate of Vienna. Even incomplete – it has a fragmentary “Credo” and is missing an “Agnus Dei”) — it still stands, with his also uncompleted Requiem, as a towering masterpiece of his sacred choral output.

Taylor displayed a fine feeling for both the overall and individual qualities of the work, projecting them with vigor and discipline.

There were four student soloists (below), with promising young voices.

But eventually the standout proved to be soprano Sarah Richardson (below). The operatic-style aria, “Et incarnatus est” from the “Credo” was apparently sung by Mozart’s wife in its preliminary performance, and is often heard as a separate solo number today. This was sung by Richardson (below) with skill and eloquence. (You can hear the aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This chorus was really a bit oversized for a work like this, but Taylor made it the real star of the performance, in singing with both power and precision.

A truly rewarding concert!


Classical music: UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra plus soloists will perform Brahms and Mozart this Saturday and Sunday nights. On Friday night, the Choral Arts Society Chorale performs a holiday program.

December 7, 2017
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ALERT: The Choral Arts Society Chorale of Madison, under director Mikko Rankin Utevsky, will perform “Frostiana: Songs for a Winter’s Night” this Friday night at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1904 Winnebago St. Admission is $15, students $10. The program is: Brahms, “In stiller Nacht”; Barber, “Sure on this shining night”; Lasso, “Matona mia cara”; Victoria, “O Magnum Mysterium”; Gendel, “It was my father’s custom”; Myers, “The Winter’s Night”; Leontovych, “Shchedryk“; and Thompson, “Frosting.”

For more information, go to www.ChoralArtsMadison.org

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the UW-Madison campus and community Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform the rarely heard “Schicksalslied” (Song of Destiny) by Brahms and the “Great” Mass in C Minor, K. 427, by Mozart.

The performances are in Mills Hall on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday night at 7 p.m.

Writes conductor Beverly Taylor (below):

The “Schicksalslied,” Op. 54, by Brahms (below) is a heartfelt, 16-minute work that sets Friedrich Hoelderlin’s poem about the yearning and loss of beauty, and suggestion of hope for the future.

“The work starts with gorgeous, muted harmonies; goes into a passionate whirlwind in the middle; and then ends with an orchestral recollection of the opening themes.

“If the work were longer, it might be performed more often. It is a real jewel of Brahms’s repertoire.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Adds Taylor: “The C minor Mass, like the Requiem, was unfinished by Mozart (below) —we are not sure why. It contains vibrant writing for the chorus, including several movements for double chorus, and some of the finest solo music he ever wrote.”

The soloists will be sopranos Sarah Richardson (below top) and Chelsie Propst (below second), tenor Wesley Dunnagan (below third), and baritone Matthew Chastain (below bottom).

Tickets are $15 for the public, $8 for students.

For more information about obtaining tickets and for more about the works and performers, go to; http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/choral-union-symphony-orchestra-2/


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