|Rossini:||Overture to Semiramide|
|Elgar:||Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85|
|Copland:||Symphony No. 3|
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Lynn Harrell, cello
John DeMain, conductor
The already soaring Madison Symphony Orchestra and its artistic director John DeMain achieved new heights, both musically and technically, in their third subscription pair of the season, especially on Sunday. The magnificent cellist Lynn Harrell provided a major orbital boost with a passionate and heart-felt reading of Elgar's Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85, a work that derives most of its power from lyrical intensity rather than from tricky bravura, though its technical demands are no simple matter. Grand and committed as the work's more passionate turmoil was, Harrell, DeMain and the MSO were frankly amazing in the pensive, pianissimo slower passages that are the concerto's inward-looking glories. Bravos and standing ovations both times showed how deeply the audience was touched.
Rossini's Overture to "Semiramide" began the program. It's an example of Rossini's more serious side, a mixture of almost Verdian drama in its opening horn quartet alloyed with fleet, exciting long crescendos. The strings, violins especially, played with impressive precision and transparency, with less emphasis on Rossini's typical flash and more on his mastery of phrasing. One of DeMain's many gifts is his talent for revealing the vocal character within instrumental textures. Rossini overtures are seldom performed with such care and it was musically very gratifying.
To a substantial degree, it fell to Aaron Copland to define what "American" meant in the music of the 20th century. Not to slight his better-known ballet scores, his Symphony No. 3, a major work lasting 42 minutes, reveals the full scope of his genius for motivic development, rhythmic invention and orchestrational subtlety. The score places incredible technical demands on all sections of the augmented large ensemble; there's no way the MSO could have undertaken it even a couple seasons back, I think.
It's not an easy piece for audiences, either. There's so much music there that "getting it" requires more than one hearing. The raw energy of its brassy boldness and the irregularity of its shifting rhythmic patterns at first overwhelm the details of its aching lyricism and emotional impacts. The second performance was more expansive and secure, not surprisingly, achieving a deeply moving completeness in each of the four movements. It was beyond question yet another peak experience in the MSO's 75th season celebration.
Not coincidentally, a record audience of 3500 applauded these two exemplary performances. It seems obvious that if you build quality on the level we now expect from our orchestra, they will come. It's deeply satisifying, to say the least.
Isthmus, November, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson