Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Symphony: All-Beethoven!

On Saturday, February 2nd, we went to hear the Milwaukee Symphony's "All Beethoven!" concert. Music Director Edo de Waart conducted, with the orchestra trimmed down to Classical proportions.

Even though the orchestra was a bit smaller, they still had a big, exciting sound that suited the selections very well.

The first half opened with the Overture to "Coriolan", Opus 62. I was not very familiar with this music, and found it a very thrilling piece to listen to.

Symphony Number 2, followed. I thought this piece was fascinating and very interesting. The four movements essentially comprise an entire concert, since each one develops at least two themes.

The second half began with the Overture to "Egmont." I am more familiar with this piece, and was very pleased with the orchestra's presentation of music that defines "exciting" to me. Unlike "Coriolan," which was written well after the play that inspired it (by Heinrich Joseph von Collin, not Shakespeare), "Egmont" was composed specifically as part of the incidental music for the play by Goethe. If the play is as exciting as the music, it's a pity it seems to be forgotten (at least everywhere outside Germany).

Symphony Number Four rounded out the concert. It is a very beautiful and lyrical composition which comes to a big, fast and furious conclusion. It was all very satisfying.

One of the pleasures of a live concert is actually to watch the conductor and the musicians. Maestro de Waart is a physically rather conservative conductor, who does not use a lot of big or extraneous gestures. However, when he does reach out to evoke the music, you know he means it. The orchestra was well drilled, and the simultaneity of their attack was visually obvious. Reviewers for the Journal-Sentinel and Shepherd Express were generally laudatory, but purported to have caught small flubs here and there which were not discernible to my non-professional ear. For my money, it was a flawless and highly enjoyable concert.

Thoughts and queries: In a lead-up article on the concert, Elaine Schmidt of the Journal-Sentinel wrote: "Anyone who went to music school was taught that creating an interesting concert program is a matter of including as much contrast and variety as possible." I have to say I consider this dogma doubtful, and certainly not supported by the Symphony's recent programs. Since the beginning of the year, they have had an Itzhak Perlman gala (Also all Beethoven); "Rhapsody in Blue," which had Copland, Gershwin, Sibelius and a new piece by Jeffrey Mumford; Bruckner's "Romantic" paired with Mozart Concerto No. 22; the all-Beethoven; "Russian Masters," Liadov, Shostakovitch, and Prokofiev; and "American Songbook". So, some mixed programs, but definitely not "as much contrast and variety as possible." To my mind it makes much more sense to compile a concert program that is either stylistically or thematically connected, as MSO seems to be doing, and spread out the contrast and variety over the course of a season. It seems to me most concert goers would prefer that, rather than having every concert be a rag-bag of unrelated music.

A second idle thought: I wonder if anyone has compiled a list of overtures that are far more widely known than the plays or operas they were composed for? This would include "Coriolan" and "Egmont," "Wilhelm Tell," "Donna Diana," and pretty much the entire oeuvre of Von Suppe: "Poet and Peasant," "Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna," and "Light Cavalry." I'm sure there are others.

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Tags: music
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