|Prokofiev:||Classical Symphony, Op. 25|
|Dvorak:||Cello Concerto in B Minor|
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Desmond Hoebig, cello
John DeMain, conductor
One thing setting the Madison Symphony Orchestra's current incarnation apart from its preceding one is programming philosophy. MSO audiences are now getting their best opportunity yet to become familiar with repertory that has either been rare or entirely absent from our concert programs until recently. The MSO's music director, John DeMain, has been setting some demanding tasks not only for his players, but also for the audience. Saturday evening's performance at the Oscar Mayer Theater was a good case in point.
Opening with Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, Op. 25, the difficulty of meeting extremely stringent demands for precise violin intonation was at once obvious. In addition, despite what seemed to me extremely clear direction from the podium, there were a few momentary lapses of ensemble. I don't think either of these features should be seen as having seriously marred what was at base a fine performance, but they point out that every performance is a major challenge, the more so when the music is as limpid and exposed as this work is. The piece also helped create a setting for the Bartok Dance Suite, which came next.
Unlike the Prokofiev, which uses extremely familiar classical forms and mostly standard harmonic features, the Bartok work, written in 1923, relies on a number of elements that depart significantly from the classical idiom. Compared to standard Viennese classicism, Bartok's language derives much of its exotic flavor from eastern European folk-music elements, both rhythmic and melodic. These elements are more simply presented in some of his music, but in the Dance Suite Bartok integrates then very tightly into a complex texture of orchestrational devices and musical characters. The result is a large-scale work that is extraordinarily difficult to play, and -- this was the first time it had been heard at an MSO concert -- a concentrated dose of unfamiliarity for the audience. Although the performance was not flawless, it was very, very good, certainly good enough to be called a major achievement for the MSO, and audience reaction seemed about evenly divided between wildly enthusiastic (I was in that camp) and mildly enthusiastic.
Enthusiasm was clearly quite unreserved for cellist Desmond Hoebig, whose performance of the Dvorak Concerto in B Minor elicited prolonged applause and an encore (also not too shabby: the prelude from the first Bach suite for unaccompanied cello). Hoebig began his Dvorak concerto a little on the safe side, it seemed to me, but by the time he got to the slow movement, he was completely unreserved in lyrical and espressivo matters. In both outer movements of this enormous work, Hoebig's massive technical command shone through very nicely -- the fellow can certainly play. I think major mention should also be made of the especially sensitive accompaniment of the orchestra. DeMain's background as an opera conductor was very much in evidence as he closely followed every nuance of the soloist's cantabile lines. This in fact heightened the vocal lyricism of the solo part, underscoring its arioso character, making an already attractive performance even better.
One final note: DeMain, recently returned from a successful series of Australian dates, can feel secure that he is a member of the local community, for we do miss him when he is gone and it's nice to have him back.
Isthmus, November, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson