A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Jan 14, 2013
12:56 PM
Classically Speaking

WCO Presents “Towering Giants”—But “Vive le Sax!”

WCO Presents “Towering Giants”—But “Vive le Sax!”

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s marketing pitch for Friday night’s program was “Towering Giants,” in reference to the carefully selected Mozart and Beethoven works on the second half. But the true giant onstage at the Capitol Theater was the evening’s soloist, Claude Delangle.

He was no surprise to veteran fans of the WCO, having graced the orchestra with his artistry in 2007. Having missed that appearance, I took all the critical acclaim at face value—and was still awed by what I heard.

In short concertos by Villa-Lobos and Glazunov, Delangle reminded me of the first time I heard Heinz Holliger play the oboe: I didn’t know the instrument could sound like that.

Now, I know fine playing on any orchestral or band instrument, but that statement gives you some idea of the transcendent mastery and beauty Delangle command (and it was on two instruments, soprano and alto sax). In the aforementioned works, he treated them as concert hall vehicles, with a most measured use of vibrato. His improvisational skills were on full display in a mesmerizing cadenza in the Villa-Lobos.

We were also treated to a more relaxed style—and a world premiere—in the “Paris Eternel” of Philippe Portejoie, a work inspired by the folk and cabaret style of Edith Piaf, et al. It took three sustained curtain calls, but at last we had one more short treat, Debussy’s “Syrinx,” originally for unaccompanied flute. Delangle introduced the work with “an apology to the flutist,” but the interpretation was not only Debussy-esque to the max, but the soprano sax hinted at flute timbres in the upper range—and oboe and English horn in its lower notes. Tres magnifique only begins to describe it.

The Capitol Theater performance opened with a jaunty and charming “Jeux d’enfants” of Bizet, an opportunity to showcase several orchestral soloists, including concertmaster Leanne League. The second half gave us one legitimate rarity and one lesser-heard work by those “towering giants.”

The Twelve Contradances of Beethoven are an unpublished set of folk-like dances that range from about a minute to just two or three in length. Despite their seeming unimportance, Beethoven lavished a good-sized ensemble on them, and No. 7 gives us yet another version of the theme that he recycled several times, principally in the finale of his “Eroica” Symphony. Yet again, Andrew Sewell has an eye and ear for the less traveled musical path, and we are certainly the richer for it.

Similarly, the evening closed with a Mozart symphony, not one of the most famous, but No. 31, the “Paris” Symphony. I will confess that it is a work I would rarely, if ever, seek out, so again thanks are due to Sewell and his polished ensemble for reminding us all of how much great music we overlook—and how stimulating it is to hear it live.

Photo: Claude Delangle. Courtesy: Arnaud Degardin, Paris

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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