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Mozart-Haydn-Prokofiev Mix and Match

Guest conductor Cristian Mӑcelaru leads MSO with elegance

Nov. 15, 2016
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The colors and varieties of sound that can come from a violin are endlessly interesting. I was thinking this as I listened to Frank Almond play Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 (K. 207) with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last Friday evening. This music brought out a rich, sturdy, silvery tone from Almond, playing the “Ex-Lipinski” Stradivari violin, a different color of sound than I’ve normally heard from him.

The first movement of the concerto was delivered with fleet elegance, evenness of sound and Almond’s strong sense of pitch. He is especially good at spinning out a long, lyrical line, and the second movement—so close in nature to a soprano aria—soulfully showcased this. There was an exciting cadenza in the final movement. (Why is it that so often someone in the audience coughs just as a solo cadenza begins?)

Guest conductor Cristian Mӑcelaru led a good performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 (“The Miracle”), emphasizing a strong rhythmic spine to the music. Contrasts were highlighted as the witty surprises in harmony and texture, so typical of Haydn, emerged. Charming chamber music came in an intimate section of solo players only. Oboist Katherine Young Steele played a lovely oboe solo that is almost a waltz, unusual for a symphony composed in 1791.

Sergei Prokofiev made three orchestral suites of music from his ballet Romeo and Juliet, and it’s become a common practice for conductors to mix and match selections from the 20 total movements for their own “custom suite.” Apparently, Mӑcelaru made the choice and order of the nine movements played by MSO on Friday evening. The MSO was its usual best self. The horns were heroic. Flutist Sonora Slocum, representing Juliet in the score, was captivating. I loved the pompous blast of the tuba in the famous “Montagues and Capulets” movement.

Mӑcelaru is an elegant, classy, efficient and obviously very capable conductor. Prokofiev’s score is emotionally powerful, but this selection and progression of movements did not stir emotion in me. Neither did this otherwise excellent performance. Where was the drama in this great romantic tragedy? 

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