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Edo de Waart's Effortless Command

May. 16, 2017
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Photo credit: Jesse Willems

The end of an era is approaching at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. After eight seasons, Edo de Waart’s tenure as MSO music director ends this month. Friday evening I heard one of his last concerts in his current role, which was certainly a showcase for the orchestra sound he built here.

Hearing a lively, bracing account of the Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni conjured memories of the unforgettable 2014 performance of the complete opera at MSO. Vivid contrasts of drama and comedy so organic to the score came forth in the overture.

Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam played Ludwig van Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 58 with serenity of spirit. He has a master’s seemingly effortless command of the instrument, performing with pristine clarity and evenness. There is an elevated purity to what Brautigam brings to the music, creating glistening soft sounds that easily carry out into the hall. He seemed the perfect complement to De Waart’s distaste for showy interpretation.

De Waart’s account of Edward Elgar’s lush Symphony No. 1, Op. 55 showed his grasp of the ebb and flow of this music, with its phrase structure that often surges forward then retreats. The strings were impressive in the blazing theme of the second movement. The beautiful third movement foreshadows Elgar’s most famous music—“Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations. Even though I know the symphony, I was caught off-guard with emotion when the soulful theme of the first movement came back in a grand statement in the finale.

Any MSO musician will tell you that the stage acoustics of the multi-purpose Uihlein Hall prevent them from hearing one another. A violinist in the fourth row can’t hear the players in the first row, much less the second violins across the stage. That the orchestra has achieved this level of excellence is a testament to the discipline and technique that De Waart has brought to it. It’s exciting to try to imagine where this excellent orchestra will go musically when they are in a more acoustically friendly (by all preliminary accounts) concert hall, with the anticipated move to the Grand Theater.

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