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WCO: Mozart, Gounod, Strauss
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Program
Mozart: Serenade in C Minor, K. 388 (384a)
Gounod: Petite Symphonie in B-Flat Major
Richard Strauss: Suite in B-Flat Major, Op. 4

Performers
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
David Crosby, conductor

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Members of the wind section of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra presented an interesting and unusual program Saturday evening at the First Congregational Church. Before a large audience under the baton of David Crosby, the wind group's playing was for the most part quite good, with a few standout moments and a few features one regrets to hear.

The best and the worst could both be heard in the opening work, Mozart's Serenade in C Minor, K. 388(384a), scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, and two bassoons. The opening allegro was marred by what I might call undifferentiated mezzo-forte, especially in the horns. Even accompanying (non-solo) musical phrases have shape and direction, and too often there was a series of notes going nowhere. But the piece itself is quite wonderful, and in the inner two movements lyrical elements were beautifully realized, especially in the clarinets though less so in the oboes. The trio section of the minuet (third) movement was especially winning. The finale, marked allegro, brought out the kind of harmonic audaciousness that makes Mozart such a marvel, and this was played with great vigor.

One virtue of the program was the opportunity hear a really obscure work, Charles Gounod's Petite Symphonie in B-Flat Major, written in 1885. This was a first hearing for me. Although the program notes mention 13 instruments (a possible conflation with the following piece, by Strauss), there were in fact nine performers, adding a flute to the previous octet of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons. A chamber work by a composer much better known for large-scale operatic writing, the Petite Symphonie was remarkable for its rather classical, un-Romantic cast. The outer two movements were amiable, almost sweet, in character, relatively free of inner conflict or resolution. In a word: harmless. The slow movement (andante cantabile, quasi adagio) was a real gem, as solo instruments handed off its lovely vocal cavatina from one to another, especially flute and oboe. There were a few ensemble problems in the scherzo, but it too was worth hearing.

Following intermission came Richard Strauss' Suite in B-Flat Major, Op. 4, which added another flute, two more horns, and contrabassoon to the preceding band. Dating from very early in Strauss's career, the Suite gives major clues to vocal styles that will unfold later in this great opera composer's life. At the close of the first movement there is an arcing buildup of sound and enrichment of harmonic texture. Then in the second movement (Romanze: andante) the soaring lyrical line becomes frankly operatic, supported by a rich orchestration. The next movement, a rather brisk gavotte, was less inspired and a bit ragged as to intonation. The finale, however, likewise looking back to Baroque models, was simply astounding: following a slow introduction (andante cantabile) came a large-scale fugue (allegro con brio), with a wonderful fugue subject that was very well worked out formally. Despite the somewhat backward-looking style, the movement was 100% Straussian, gradually building up sound and texture to a great climax.

All in all, a fine concert. I commend especially the idea of playing lesser-known works in less standard formats, like this wind-band concept.

Isthmus, January, 1994
Copyright 1994 Jess Anderson




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