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Vagueness Limits MSO Concert

May. 29, 2012
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After the warm acoustics of Carnegie Hall, the sound of Uihlein Hall was duller than ever in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) concert of Friday evening. My ears were working hard to find a small percentage of the depth heard in New York in the strings.

Even though William Walton's Crown Imperial had never been performed by MSO, it is familiar music, I think because it must have been used in film or on PBS. This march is almost a concert band work with added strings. The orchestra sounded crisp and tight, which made me hopeful at what was to come. After that opening I was especially disappointed with the vagueness in ensemble that came in Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 5. The wind players tried but failed time and again to cleanly attack an entrance as a unit, unable to find necessary guidance in guest conductor Christopher Warren-Green's apparently blurry beat pattern.

As violin soloist, Jennifer Frautschi played with a light and generally lovely sound. Maybe too lovely. For my tastes this romantic music needed more color and extroverted phrasing. The highest notes were not always securely tuned. I find this Scottish Fantasy uninteresting, I'm afraid, and don't particularly understand why violinists have taken to it in recent years. Danis Kelly, certainly one of the MSO's best musicians, made much of the heavily featured harp part.

I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of the music of Vaughan Williams. I find it bathed in sameness in its creamy English charm, with a limited palate of modal harmonies, instrumentation, rhythms and predictable use of canon. I think there is a reason that most of this composer's music has fallen out of the regularly performed repertoire, although he has his admirers. As mentioned earlier, the performance was not the sharpest, but it was certainly good enough to let the music be heard.

An old beef: I wish those in the audience would have the courage—yes, courage—to remain seated during applause, and not feel it is always necessary to give a compulsory standing ovation, made meaningless by its predictability. 


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