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MSO: Giunta Conducts, with Jose Feghali, Piano
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Program
Tchaikowsky: Serenade for Strings
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 27

Performers
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Jose Feghali, piano
Joseph Giunta, conductor

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The young Brazilian pianist Jose Feghali proved a dazzling soloist Saturday evening as the Madison Symphony Orchestra fielded its second candidate for a new music director, Joseph Giunta. Feghali played the very difficult Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major, by Franz Liszt. He managed its intense technical demands with the relaxed confidence one expects from today's hot-shot, prize-winning soloists. More importantly, he brought to the work's many lyrical and introspective passages a really poignant melodic sense, yet without indulging in the kind of quirkiness that ensnares so many artists seeking to set themselves apart from the crowd. Feghali played with straightforward, solid musicianship, and it was more than satisfying. A small flub in the final movement did not diminish the excellence of his performance in the least.

Less understandable and unfortunately far more intrusive was a very ragged beginning attack in the well-known Waltz that forms the second movement of Tchaikowsky's Serenade for Strings, which opened the program. Conducting from memory, Giunta had been waiting -- and waiting -- for the many latecomers to take their seats after the first movement. Possibly because he was a guest conductor and on trial for an important job, he may have been reluctant to do what he should have done: lower his baton and glare at the audience. With the concert starting nearly ten minutes late, the good citizens could have managed to get there in time to avoid such disruptions.

Giunta accented the Tchaikowsky's opening movement by too liberal a use of the same body-bouncing gesture, but he was more fluid in the waltz and in wonderful lyrical control in the work's third movement. Apart from the one rough spot, he was extremely careful in rhythmic and dynamic matters, and our often-wavering violins played remarkably well in tune in this piece. It's always a bit awesome to see a conductor work from memory, as it requires a knowledge of the score that's arguably a little better than perfect!

While he used the score -- it's virtually essential with solo concertos -- during the Liszt, which by the way he too played very well, he again performed from memory in the final piece, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 in E Minor. This is a very long work, and it seems even longer because its is so lushly romantic and repetitious. But Giunta gave it a very committed reading, and was even more attentive to dynamic detail here than in the Tchaikowsky. The slow movement, which features a long clarinet solo, stunningly played by Linda Bartley, was simply glorious! However, there were ensemble problems at various times during the work. When Giunta was closely conducting the cellos, for example, he was turned completely away from the violins, who did not follow him as well as when he was facing them. But when he did turn toward them, then the cellos and basses were not so crisp in their attacks.

The programming of three large Romantic works probably did not serve the guest conductor's interests as well as other choices might have. Of the three composers, he could perhaps have dispensed with the Tchaikowsky in favor of a 20th-century American or an early 19th-century western European work, that is, something well after or well before the standard Romantic repertory. As it was, it was too much of the same ethos (or in the case of the Rachmaninoff, pathos). Two down and one to go.

Isthmus, November, 1993
Copyright 1993 Jess Anderson




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