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!

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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/


Classical music: New faculty conductor Chad Hutchinson makes an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra

October 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, Chad Hutchinson (below), the new faculty conductor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, made an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

The ambitious program that Hutchinson put together says a lot about his priorities and instincts, and about his confidence in himself and the abilities of his student players, who performed superbly.  

The varied works came from the early 19th century, the mid-19th century, the early 20th century and the 21st century. And it seemed that each piece in the ambitious program was chosen to put the spotlight on a different section – percussion, brass, strings and winds.

Curiously, The Ear found the most successful pieces were the most traditional ones.

The Prelude to the opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by Richard Wagner received the right mix of horn pomp and string zest. It made The Ear realize again how much more he prefers Wagner’s instrumental music to his vocal music. Let’s hear more Wagner preludes, since we are unlikely to hear more Wagner operas.

The orchestral transcription by Leopold Stokowski (below) of the piano prelude “The Sunken Cathedral” by Claude Debussy was the least successful work of the night. This is the second overblown and bombastic Stokowski transcription that The Ear has heard performed live in a month.

Clearly, Stokowski’s aesthetic was Bigger is Better. This particular transcription strips away the mystery, sensuality and subtlety, the watery softness,  of the original. It works more as an etude for orchestra than as an authentic expression of Impressionism.  The Ear’s objections are to the transcription, not to the performance, which was well voiced, precise and tightly controlled.

“Mothership” by the popular American composer Mason Bates (below), who wrote the recent successful opera based on the life of the late Apple guru Steve Jobs, proved an interesting foray into contemporary music culture. It was also the Madison premiere of the 2011 work.

The electronic music in the pulsating and highly atmospheric score, including the computer-generated disco dance beat, highlighted the percussion section and the UW’s new Electro-Acoustic Research Space (EARS), which collaborated with the symphony orchestra.

The dramatic work, a novelty that is pop-infused and resembles music by John Adams a little too closely, has its pleasing and engaging moments. But overall it seems a triumph of style over substance. (You can judge for yourself from the performance with Michael Tilson Thomas in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That said, Hutchinson nonetheless held the complex and coordinated score together, and the young audience seemed to take to the new music — a major achievement in itself.

Expect to hear many more contemporary works from Hutchinson, who says he is an unabashed champion of new music. He will include other living composers in many other concerts, including the next one on Nov. 4 and then again on Feb. 22.  

To these ears, the most impressive performance came in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven. In its day, the difficult and long work proved revolutionary and perplexing. More recently, more than 100 conductors named it the best symphony ever written. You can’t get more establishment than that.

Yet despite being so mainstream, the “Eroica” remains a difficult and challenging work, both technically and interpretively. And this performance succeeded on both counts. That is no small feat for a new conductor and his young students to pull off in the first six weeks of school.

Especially impressive was Hutchinson’s choice to skip any pause between the third movement and the finale. It worked dramatically to maintain momentum. Such exciting attacks should be a more common practice in performing symphonies and concertos as well as chamber music.

Hutchinson seems a congenial and humorous concert hall host. His pre-concert talk (below), which he is slated to do at all performances, was helpful and informative, even if he repeated some major points when he introduced  the actual performances. Hutchinson, intent on expanding the audience for classical music, is worth listening to.

Hutchinson may not possess an especially graceful or fluid podium presence that is pleasing to watch, but he gets results. Certainly both the student players and the large audience (below) seemed pleased and excited by these performances.

In the end, the concert provided plenty of reasons to look forward to hearing more from Chad Hutchinson and seeing how he develops and leaves his mark on programming and performing at the UW.

Were you there as either a performer or an audience member?

What did you think of the concert and of Chad Hutchinson’s debut?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra resurrect Paul Hindemith’s long-neglected 20th-century secular Requiem with fine singing and committed playing

May 2, 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 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photographs below.

By John W. Barker

It is unusual that, within the space of a few days, we have parallel performances of two very untraditional Requiems, ones setting vernacular texts rather than liturgical Latin ones.

The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony(below) performed Paul Hindemith’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: A Requiem For those we love” last weekend. And the Madison Symphony Chorus and Orchestra will give us Johannes BrahmsEin deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) this coming weekend, May 5-7.

(NOTE: Here is a link with more information about the three MSO performances this coming weekend:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-closes-its-season-with-the-german-requiem-by-brahms-and-the-american-premiere-of-charles-villiers-stanfords-1921-concert-piece-fo/)

It is hard to resist the temptation to compare them.

They were, of course, composed about a century apart, in the contexts of very different stylistic eras. They reflect very different aesthetics: High Romantic warmth for Brahms, conservative modernism for Hindemith.

The different texts chosen also determine crucial differences. Brahms selected Luther’s German translations of passages from Scripture, as a broad collage of human consolation and solace, whereas the German-born Hindemith, a naturalized American citizen who fled from Hitler’s Nazism, in a patriotic commemoration of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, chose the long poem of grieving that Walt Whitman (below) wrote over the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

The relatively concise Scriptural texts allowed Brahms to develop rich melodic and contrapuntal elaborations. Hindemith’s determination to set Whitman’s complete poem, of 208 verses in altogether irregular free verse, committed him to keep things in constantly moving continuity, with little chance for pausing and elaborating.

To be sure, Hindemith (below) was never a distinguished lyricist, for all his skills, so his writing is endless declamation by the soloists, backed by strongly cast choral statements. (You can hear famed baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the chorus sing the opening of the Hindemith requiem in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There are many lovely and powerful moments, but they pass by quickly and leave little of memorable expressiveness. There is much clever music here, but in sum total it is more dutiful than beautiful.

The performance in Mills Hall — I heard the one Sunday night — showed a stage packed with musicians. There were two soloists, a chorus of exactly 100 singers, and an orchestra (the UW Symphony) of 67 players, 46 of them on strings. UW choral director and conductor Beverly Taylor (below) drew from all of them deeply committed musical results.

Of the two soloists, soprano Jennifer D’Agostino (below left) sang with beauty and expression, but it was baritone James Held (below right) who stole the show, with a ringing voice, superb diction, and a genuine eloquence.

The huge chorus was quite magnificent, well unified, fully serious in its enunciation, and capable of some truly musical sound — and Hindemith, though nowhere near Brahms as a choral composer, gave them some serious challenges. The orchestra sounded a bit rough at the very beginning, but settled into participating strongly in the performance.

Whatever reservations one may have about Hindemith’s score, this Whitman Requiem, one of his last important works and premiered in 1946, is a significant piece. It is far less frequently heard than that by Brahms, and so it is very good that UW choral director Beverly Taylor has brought it to our attention.


Classical music: Earth Day will be celebrated with Handel’s “Ode for St. Cecelia’s Day” this Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Plus, the UW Symphony and soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn perform music by Weber, Wagner and Tchaikovsky in a FREE concert Friday night.

April 21, 2016
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ALERT: This Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, guest conductor Andreas Stoehr of Vienna will lead the UW Symphony Orchestra and his Wisconsin-born wife, soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn, who has taught at the UW-Madison for the past three years, in a FREE concert.

The program includes the Overture to the opera “Der Freischuetz” by Carl Maria von Weber; the “Wesendonck Lieder,” or songs, by Richard Wagner; and the Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The Ear hears from a knowledgeable source that the concert will be outstanding.

For more about the impressive background of the conductor, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-symphony-orchestra-2/

And here is a link to a story on the A Temp blog with some quotes from the conductor about the program:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice:

The Madison Area community is invited to celebrate the 46th anniversary of Earth Day – which was founded by former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson — with an afternoon concert and reception on this Saturday, April 23, and Sunday, April 24.

Earth Day

The event is sponsored and organized by the group Maestro Productions.

The Madison Area Community Earth Day Celebration Concert and Reception features the Madison Area Community Chorus and Orchestra (below, from 2015) with guest soloists and the Ringing Badgers Handbell Ensemble.

Earth Day Concert Group Photo 2015

It will be held at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, on Saturday, April 23, at 2 p.m. and on Sunday, April 24, at 2 p.m.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

The program opens with Maestro’s Ringing Badgers Handbell Ensemble.

Following intermission, the Madison Area Community Chorus and Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Bloedow (below), presents George Frideric Handel‘s choral work”Ode for St. Cecelia’s Day” and other selections. (You can hear an excerpt from the Handel work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mark Bloedow

Guest soloists include soprano Rachel Edie Warrick (below top) and lyric tenor J. Adam Shelton (below bottom).

Rachel Edie Warrick

J. Adam Shelton 2

A reception will follow the concert in Immanuel’s Lakeview Room.

Tickets for the event are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for children and students. They are available from Willy Street Co-op Stores (East and West Locations), online at http://maestroproductions.brownpapertickets.com, and at the door.

More information is available at Maestro’s website: www.maestroproductions.org.


Classical music: The UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra plus soloists turn in a “glorious” performance of the rarely performed choral symphony “Hymn of Praise” by Felix Mendelssohn.

May 6, 2015
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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 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

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will bring us that giant among symphonies, Beethoven’s Ninth. We now take that work so for granted as a musical summit by itself that we lose sight of its enormous impact on composers of the rest of the 19th century.

The introduction of solo and choral voices into an orchestral symphony score was radical, and inspired many responses. One was the efforts of Hector Berlioz to infuse the elements of opera into a symphonically structured work, resulting in that masterpiece, his “dramatic symphony” Romeo et Juliette. Richard Wagner, by contrast, built an entire career of casting operas in symphonic terms. The culmination of the “choral symphony” came with three of the symphonies by Gustav Mahler (Nos. 2, 3 and 8).

But an earlier response was brought to us last Saturday night by the UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (below). This was Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, known as the Lobgesang or “Hymn of Praise.” It was composed in 1840, a mere 16 years after Beethoven’s Ninth was premiered.

Choral Union and UW Symphony Lobgesang

Mendelssohn (below) did not simplistically imitate the prototype, but adapted its idea to his own purposes. In place of three elaborate and individual movements, the work’s No. 1, called “sinfonia,” is a set of three successive orchestral sections that flow with limited breaks one after the other, for a total of 15-20 minutes. Then follows a series of nine numbers constituting a cantata for soloists and chorus, running close to 60 minutes.

mendelssohn_300

It sets either Scriptural or devotional texts pertaining to faith in and celebration of the Almighty, with thematic references made to material in the preliminary “sinfonia.” This “choral finale” alone is in the line of sacred choral works, many on Psalm texts, that the composer wrote recurrently.

This cantata may lack the etherial daring of Beethoven’s choral finale, but it is far more idiomatically vocal and choral than what late Beethoven had come to. With its inclusion of Lutheran chorale elements and fugal counterpoint, it is in a class with Mendelssohn’s glorious oratorio Elijah. (Below is a photo of the performance by Margaret Barker.)

Lobgesang Margaret Barker

Because of the extra-orchestral resources the work calls for, it is not often performed, so that it has not become as familiar, and therefore as well-loved, as the composer’s popular Symphonies 3, 4, and 5, the so-called “Scottish,” “Italian” and “Reformation” symphonies. Some might find No. 2 less than top-drawer Mendelssohn, but it is certainly high-quality Mendelssohn, and readily rewards the hearing. (You can hear an excerpt featuring Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This was the sole work on this Choral Union program. With the absence of regular conductor Beverly Taylor, who is on sabbatical this semester, the podium was assumed by the splendid James Smith (below), who seemed altogether comfortable drawing magnificent sounds from the large chorus, while working his usual wonders with his student orchestra.

Version 3

There are parts for three soloists. The main soprano was Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top, left), whose wide vibrato and squally high range represented for me the one disappointment of this performance. The reliable Mimmi Fulmer (below top, center) was drawn in only for a two-soprano duet: I wish she had been given the top assignment. Thomas Leighton (below bottom) is not the most lyrical of tenors, but he conveyed honestly the spiritual searching of his solos.

Mimmi Fulmer Lobgesang

Thomas Leighton Lobgesang

Here, then, was the Choral Union at its best. It offered stirring choral singing, while giving us an opportunity to experience an unfairly neglected but wonderful score.

 

 


Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College finish up their seasons this weekend with major choral and instrumental concerts.

April 28, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College finish up their seasons this weekend with major choral and instrumental concerts.

Here are details: 

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

This Saturday night, May 2, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union, UW Symphony Orchestra and soloists Mimmi Fulmer (below top), Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and Thomas Leighton (below bottom), all under the baton of conductor James Smith, will perform.

mimmi fulmer COLOR

Elizabeth Hagedorn singing 2

Thomas Leighton

They will give ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY of the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major (“Lobegesang” or Hymn of Praise) by Felix Mendelssohn (below). You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Admission is $15 for the general public, $8 for students and senior.

For more information, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/choral-union-with-uw-symphony-orchestra-3/

For program notes, here is another link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Lobesang-notes.pdf

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE

Edgewood College (below) will host two concerts this weekend.

Edgewood College 1000

On FRIDAY NIGHT, May 1, at 7 p.m. will be a choral concert that features several groups.

For the Friday night concert, choral groups will perform, including the Women’s Choir, Chamber Singers (below), and Campus-Community Choir.

Edgewood Chamber Singers

Conductors include Kathleen Otterson (below top), Albert Pinsonneault (below bottom) and Sergei Pavlov.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Albert Pinsonneault 2

On SUNDAY AFTERNOON, May 3, at 2:30 p.m. is an instrumental concert.

Sunday afternoon’s concert features several instrumental ensembles, including the Saxophone Quartet, Guitar Ensemble, Concert Band (below top in a poster form a past concert), and Jazz Ensemble. Conductors include Daniel Wallach, Nathan Wysock (below bottom) and Walter Rich.

Walter Rich  Edgewood Concert Band 2013-3-22-Band

NathanWysock

Sorry, The Ear has received no word about the specific program for either concert.

Both concerts will take place in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission to each concert is $7, and will benefit music scholarships. Tickets will be available at the door.


Classical music: On Christmas Day, YOU MUST HEAR THIS – “The Shepherd’s Farewell” chorus from the oratorio “L’Enfance du Christ” by Hector Berlioz.

December 25, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2014.

As this year’s gift, The Ear wants to share something special.

It is a work that usually gets drowned out at Christmas time by more familiar works — from “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “The Nutcracker” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti and the “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

The work I am talking about is the “Shepherd’s Farewell” to the infant Jesus whose family — Virgin Mary and father Joseph — must flee its homeland in face of the death threats posed by King Herod.

It comes from “L’Enfance du Christ” (The Childhood of Jesus) by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). The story goes that he was bored at a dinner party and sketched it out on a linen napkin.

berlioz

True story or not, the music is gloriously beautiful, calm and reassuring — in an appropriately pastoral way. This neglected chorus -– in fact, the whole neglected oratorio — deserves to be a much more integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Maybe in future years, Hector Berlioz’ “L’Enfance du Christ” could be performed, in part or in its entirety, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. It would make a wonderful holiday addition, or even tradition.

Anyway, you listen and you decide.

Then tell us what you think in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

So here is the music, in a YouTube video at the bottom, running just under 5 minutes.

Enjoy.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra, with guest soloists, offered a welcome trio of rarely heard works.

November 29, 2014
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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 for 20 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

Well, last weekend was another train-wreck weekend with too many good things in competition with each other: pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater (Thursday, Nov. 20), the Madison Opera’s Fidelio at the Overture Center (Friday, Nov. 21, and Sunday, Nov. 23), the UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (Saturday, Nov. 22, and Sunday, Nov. 23), and the intimate Solo Dei Gloria concert at Luther Memorial Church (Saturday, Nov. 22). I won’t mention the basketball game, as well.

I was able to revel in Beethoven’s Fidelio on Friday evening, enjoy the SDGers on Saturday, and catch the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (below) on Sunday evening. And a rewarding finale that was.

UW Choral Union and Symphony Nov. 2014

Conductor and director Beverly Taylor (below) wisely avoided any seasonal associations and gave us the chance to hear music that we are rarely likely to hear otherwise.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

There were three pieces.

The “filler” in the middle was a lushly exotic curiosity by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below), his Flos campi (or “floss campy,” as a Wisconsin Public Radio announcer identified it) — “Flower of the Field,” inspired by lines from the Biblical Song of Songs, and scored for the unusual combination of solo viola, wordless chorus and orchestra.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

It is a rhapsodic affair, in six interconnected sections, exploring the sonorities and novel colors that his scoring allows. While it evokes a perfumed “eastern” ambiance, much of its musical character really derives from the composer’s steeping in folksong and folk spirit.

The chorus’s size gave its sound a good carrying power, helping the wordless ah-ing and humming to come through well against the orchestra, while viola soloist Sally Chisholm (below), a UW-Madison professor who also plays in the Pro Arte Quartet, made a beautifully ecstatic web of sound that only the viola can really achieve. When have you last heard such a dreamy novelty, and when again are you likely to?

UW Choral Union Sally Chisholm

On other side of that music came two different settings of the familiar Latin canticle, Te Deum laudamus, by two different composers. This all-purpose liturgical text has been set many, many times by a procession of composers over the centuries, but it would be difficult to imagine two more utterly contrasting treatments than the ones we heard.

The better known (or less unknown) one of the two was that by opera composer Giuseppe Verdi (below), among his very last compositions and now reckoned as the fourth of his Quattro pezzi sacri or “Four Sacred Pieces.”

Verdi 2

It is in a style familiar from his only other important setting of Latin liturgical texts, his Requiem. It is straightforward but noble, monumental and powerful music, and it was brought off with eloquence. (You can heard it, accompanied by the art of Michelangelo in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

That was the closing work.

The opening one was the other Te Deum. Antonin Dvorák (below), though a devout Roman Catholic, composed very little sacred music in Latin. Setting aside a purely functional Mass setting, his only familiar and recognized examples are his Stabat mater and his Requiem. Both of those are deeply felt, but are grandiose concert works.

dvorak

The only other such work is his setting of the Te Deum, cruelly neglected and unappreciated. It was composed in 1892 as a debut work for Dvorák’s new residence in New York City, and was intended as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

Against Verdi’s solemnity, Dvorák’s setting is festive. It is patterned along the lines of the traditional four-movement symphony, with a “slow movement” of folksong-like lyricism and a passionate “scherzo,” framed by flanking outpourings of extraordinary exuberance — all in unbroken succession.

For anyone who loves the music of this composer — as I do — or who is still discovering it, this work is an exciting revelation.

There were solo passages in the two Te Deums, beautifully sung by undergraduate soprano Emi Chen (below right) and graduate student baritone Joel Rathmann (below left).

Choral Union Joel Rathmann, Emi Chen

The UW Choral Union itself, 123 singers strong, sang with appropriate sonority. There were some rough spots in the opening of the Dvorák, with its off-putting rhythmic eccentricities, but the UW Symphony Orchestra played quite well otherwise — even if it sometimes was allowed to overshadow the other participants.

In sum, this proved an evening of truly refreshing choral experience, and another tribute to Beverly Taylor’s enterprise.


Classical music: As the semester ends, choral music concerts -– most of them FREE -– stack up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here is a summary for this week and next.

November 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The end of the semester is approaching, and the situation is once again typical.

The choral concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music are starting to stack up the same way that singers walk on stage and start filling up risers.

Every semester, it seems, the choral music performances get backed up and squeezed into the last few weekends of the semester.

To help you fill in your calendars and datebooks, here is a summary of the major groups and concerts.

THIS FRIDAY

The UW Madrigal Singers and Chorale will both give FREE concerts at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave.

luther memorial church madison

Bruce Gladstone (below) will conduct the groups.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

Here are some notes from the UW-Madison School of Music website and calendar:

“With a Merry Noise” features sacred music from 20th-century England.”

Here are the programs:

Chorale

“Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem” (1910) by Charles Villiers Stanford (below top, 1852-1924)

“O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” (1941) by Herbert Howells (below bottom, 1892-1983)

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford

herbert howells autograph

Madrigal Singers

“The Twelve” (1965) by William Walton (below, 1902-1983)

William Walton color

INTERMISSION

Combined Ensemble

“Pilgrim’s Journey” (1962) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) (A cantata adapted from Vaughan Williams’ opera “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (1951) based on the allegory by John Bunyan.]

With UW-Madison faculty members John Chappell Stowe, organ; Bruce Gladstone, conductor.

Soloists for Pilgrim’s Journey are: Sara Guttenberg, soprano; Josh Sanders, tenor; and Paul Rowe, baritone.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

NOTES FROM THE UW SCHOOL OF MUSIC

England experienced an oft-called musical renaissance in the last half of the 19th century. Composers like Hubert Parry (below), Charles Stanford and others at the Royal College of Music sought to raise the standard of composition and find a true “English voice.”

The works on this concert, though stylistically varied, display a characteristic “Englishness,” and offer a look at four very important composers who not only helped change the face of music in Great Britain, but who also wrote sublime and glorious works.

The three shorter works were all written as church anthems. Vaughan Williams’ “Pilgrim’s Journey” started life as an opera and was adapted into its present cantata format for performance as a non-staged work.

hubert parry

THIS SUNDAY

On Sunday night, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Choir (below bottom) will present a FREE concert, under director Beverly Taylor (below top), called the “Style Show.”

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

It features works of different periods from the Renaissance to the present and showing where they overlap and imitate each other.

The composers include Orlando Gibbons, Robert Pearsall, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gyorgy Orban and John Harbison (represented by his jazz arrangements). Featured are serious and happy motets, several extended works, folk songs and close harmony.

Concert Choir

NEXT WEEK

On Friday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the University Chorus and the UW Women’s Chorus will give a FREE concert.

Anna Volodarskaya and Sarah Guttenberg will conduct.

Here is the program:

Three Madrigals                          Emma Lou Diemer (below)

Praise His Holy Name                  Keith Hampton

Ruhetal                                            Felix Mendelssohn

Exsultate justi in Domino            Ludovico da Daviana

Emma Lou Diemer

UW CHORAL UNION AND UW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

On Saturday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and Sunday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union (made up of campus and community singers) and the UW Symphony will perform under the baton of Beverly Taylor (all seen below).

Tickets are $15 for the public; $8 for seniors and students.

UW Choral Union  12:2011

Program:

Antonin Dvorak                      Te Deum

Ralph Vaughan Williams          Flos Campi 

Featuring Professor and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm

Giuseppe Verdi                       Te Deum

“Presented will be the buoyant, robust and beautiful Te Deum by Antonin Dvorak (performed for the first time by Choral Union); the languorously beautiful Flos Campi by Ralph Vaughan Williams for wordless chorus and solo viola, and the dramatic Te Deum by Giuseppe Verdi set for very large orchestra.

The two Te Deums are very different settings of an ancient liturgical song of praise.

The Flos Campi (below in a YouTube video) features violist Sally Chisholm (below), a member of the Pro Arte String Quartet and Professor of Music at UW-Madison.

Sally Chisholm

Ticket info here

 

 

 


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