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A Captivated Contrast at Milwaukee Symphony’s Final Concert for the Season

Jun. 20, 2017
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The final Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra classical subscription concert of the season captivated with an engaging program of three contrasting pieces. MSO Assistant Conductor Yaniv Dinur made a strong debut in his first subscription concert appearance.

Inspired by a poem about the Afro-Cuban ritualistic killing of a snake, Sensemayá, by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) kicked off the concert with primal energy. Relentless, driving, jagged rhythms push the music forward, with brass and percussion carrying most of the momentum. The exciting Saturday evening performance showed tight ensemble playing and powerful orchestral sound.

MSO Associate Concertmaster Ilana Setapen was featured in Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, composed in 1939-’40. Her graceful, unfussy playing came forth in a tone with sweetness to its core in the incredibly beautiful, lyrical first movement. The color changed to attractive, steely sound in the cadenza. I loved Setapen’s natural sense of phrase. The second movement is one of the great laments in the concerto literature, with Barber fully expressing his inclination to melancholy. Katherine Young Steele set it up with a soulful oboe solo, and Setapen answered with playing that seemed to deeply move a hushed audience. The concerto shifts into a nervous, perpetual-motion third movement, and Setapen handled this anxious music, written at the throat of World War II, with fleet skill and without breaking a sweat. This was a classy performance by a classy artist.

The orchestra is lucky to have Yaniv Dinur. Artistically and technically, he is probably the most fully formed MSO assistant conductor I’ve heard in my 34 years of attending concerts. His account of Modest Mussorgsky’s familiar Pictures at an Exhibition showed a sure grasp of tempos, contrasts and transitions. The piece is the composer’s tribute to the paintings of a dead friend. Trumpeter Matthew Ernst was impressive in the famous opening theme and again later in the very tricky solo in the “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle” movement. Trombones and tuba showed the excellence of the MSO low brass section in “Catacombae.” Space doesn’t allow mention of all the better-than-good solo playing in this triumphant performance.  

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