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MSO: Dvorak, Barber, Tchaikowsky
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Program
Dvorak: Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Barber: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14
Tchaikowsky: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17

Performers
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Benny Kim, violin
Richard Buckley, conductor

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Saturday evening's concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, led by guest conductor Richard Buckley, was largely rather unsatisfying, except for the soloist, violinist Benny Kim, who played brilliantly indeed.

Samuel Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 is a lyric work of great beauty. Kim's reading brought forth, I thought, all of the long-line, singing quality of the materials, at the same time allowing numerous flashes of technical brilliance alloyed with great passion. Still, and not to be taken as a negative comment, he could have pulled out the stops even more than he did, for example in the middle of the opening movement and at a number of places in the second. I had the feeling, however, that he played the last movement at the very edge of the possible, which is always exciting to hear and see. It also seems to me that Barber is a somewhat neglected American composer, apart from the famous Adagio for Strings, so hearing the violin concerto was gratifying in that regard. The orchestral component of the performance was blessed by some outstanding solo playing, notably oboe, clarinet and trumpet, but overall there was a disturbing problem that manifested in all three works on the program, a virtual collapse of precision ensemble in the fast playing. In the Barber, this stood out in the finale, which in addition to being extremely fleet also contains a goodly number of off-beat accents.

Ensemble was at once noticeable in the beginning of Dvorak's Carnival Overture, Op. 92, which opens at breakneck speed. I never did directly observe the real source of the problem, but by the end of the program it seemed that the orchestra could not find the center of Buckley's beat. In fast playing, being off by a little sounds like being off by a lot. This was unfortunate because it's a good work and some of the individual parts were wholly satisfactory, especially the winds in the more lyrical central section of the piece. This overture is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, and the capacity audience applauded it vigorously.

Tchaikowsky's Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 is pretty far from that composer's greatest achievement. But it does permit a full display of large-orchestra sound and capabilities and amply demonstrates Tchaikowsky's great skill as an orchestrator. Here, however, the ensemble problem came so much to the fore that in each of the four movements there were moments of great confusion, caused primarily by late attacks on the second beat. As it happens, Tchaikowsky's style depends no small amount on the ONE-two-three-four pattern, the primary beat emphasized further by the orchestration; for the accompanying instruments to be even a little late on the weaker beats causes a general rhythmic failure.

The work takes about half an hour. But it seems much longer. The finale provides a good example of why one gets this impression. Tchaikowsky is the great master of far too many climaxes, each preceded by the same kind of orchestral crescendo. When the movement has basically only two ideas, hearing them four or five times wears out their welcome, so to speak. It's rare for me to be glad when a concert is over. I was this time.

Isthmus, November, 1994
Copyright 1994 Jess Anderson




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