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Restless Spirit of Rachmaninoff at MSO

Mar. 5, 2013
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Rachmaninoff’s music always feels emotionally restless. Whether melancholy or agitated, it inevitably longs for some undefined otherness. Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra played an all Rachmaninoff concert last Friday evening, conducted by Edo de Waart and featuring pianist Joyce Yang.

Yang is in the midst of a multi-season cycle with MSO of all five major Rachmaninoff works for piano and orchestra. This time around it was Concerto No. 1, a bear of a piece that jumps into busy difficulty immediately and stays there. Yang played with gusto, admirably rising to the many technical challenges, and fulfilling the romantic heroics of the score. Even in bravura, her performance was disciplined and free of over-statement, a danger in this kind of music.

Some conductors go almost exclusively for warmth and emotional sweep in large romantic works, exaggerating the most extreme aspects. Not de Waart, who is interested in making clearly vivid the details the composer provided rather than adding his own imposed agenda. His approach was evident in The Rock, based on a Chekhov short story, and The Bells, based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Bells
, with vocal soloists and chorus nearly operatic, drew on de Waart’s talents as a master opera conductor, giving voices structure and support while allowing freedom of expression. Soprano Twyla Robinson (replacing the scheduled singer), and tenor Richard Croft ably contributed, as did baritone Hugh Russell (also replacing the scheduled singer), although his music would have been stronger if sung by a commanding bass voice rather than a baritone. The Milwaukee Symphony Chorus created exciting climaxes of hot emotion.


Frankly Music’s romantic vigor

The recent Frankly Music concert was a preview to a new CD, to be released in April, devoted to music specifically associated with the Stradivari violin played by Frank Almond. Pianist William Wolfram joined Almond for a stirring performance of romantic rigor of Sonata in D minor by Schumann. Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp Major, written for the former player of the “Ex-Lipinski Strad,” is a little known curiosity by Julius Röntgen, flashy and lovely, at times with the lightness of salon music.


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