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Andreas Delfs Cooks Up Heat in MSO Return

Classical Review

May. 17, 2011
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There was an understandable spirit of anticipation in the air at Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening. Andreas Delfs returned to the podium, his first appearance in this city since leaving the position of MSO music director in June 2009. Delfs decidedly earned a beloved status in his 12 years with the orchestra. It was obvious that the audience was pleased to welcome him back for a visit.

The orchestra was playing in less than ideal circumstances. The acoustic shell that crashed a few weeks ago is out of commission through the rest of this season. Some temporary side walls (unsightly, in raw plywood) on the stage are an inadequate remedy to the visual and acoustic problem. Whether used or not in the program, the sizable organ is left up behind the orchestra to help project sound out into the hall. Because chorus risers were needed in this concert, strings were pressed to the edge of the stage. This added liveliness to the string sound, but at the cost of the refining blend that results from the orchestra being set up a bit further upstage. Due to a concurrent Florentine Opera production, some MSO players were not playing on this concert. It simply did not look entirely like the regular orchestra roster on stage.

Delfs cooked up some heat in Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5. He encouraged lots of unchecked volume from the orchestra. This created an exciting edge at times, but also a rougher orchestral tone. The performance was more about sweep and spirit than about exacting detail.

Delfs always had a strong affinity with the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. He lovingly coaxed warm choral sounds in Lux aeterna by Morten Lauridsen, one of the most performed of current American choral composers. Colorful, lovely harmonies were constant in music expertly written for chorus. I wished for a little more definition and spine at times. The choral tone, though beautiful, suffered from a lack of presence in the bass section sound, and too much soprano in the balance. Sibelius' Finlandia started the concert off with some fun, old-fashioned schmaltz.


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