A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Nov 16, 2013
12:17 AM
Classically Speaking

Disciplined Romanticism from Madison Symphony

Disciplined Romanticism from Madison Symphony

PHOTO BY ROSALIE O'CONNOR

Augustin Hadelich

Among myriad pleasures, the first two concerts of the Madison Symphony season went a long way to proving director John DeMain’s contention that the string section is the heart of his ensemble. Friday night in Overture Hall, the evidence was more convincing than ever.

Everyone got a workout in Aaron Jay Kernis’s “Too Hot Toccata,” a six-minute snapshot of all that is best about American music: irrepressible energy, vivid splashes of instrumental color across the orchestral spectrum and some hints of jazz that soon dominate the rambunctious proceedings. DeMain has not been reticent about programming contemporary composers on a fairly regular basis, so it was a little surprising to learn that this was the first MSO performance of any Kernis work. This 1996 opus did its job: It makes you want to hear more of this already well-established composer.

Augustin Hadelich is no unknown quantity. He was here in January 2012 for a convincing reading of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. For this occasion he was just a little less off the beaten path, with Eduard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. Despite its title, the work's five relatively brief movements are still a concerto in all but name. It would be the easiest thing in the world for a soloist to stand in the spotlight and in effect say to the orchestra, “Here I go, just try to keep up.”

But from the opening moments of the work, Hadelich exhibited obvious  focus on the collaboration with DeMain and orchestra. At times Hadelich could not have gotten closer to the conductor without climbing onto the podium; on another occasion he seemed inclined to cross over to the cello section while they accompanied him for an extended sequence.

Hadelich may not have the biggest or most brilliant sound, but he brings unmatched precision and more expression than most. The “Intermezzo” and “Andante” movements could not have been more lyrical and tender, and the character of his phrasing combined with his virtuosity in the finale guaranteed a raucous and swift standing ovation. The audience was soon treated to an encore of the “Sarabande” from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2. What would have sufficed as poignant encore soon transcended the voice of a mere violin, and evolved into nothing less than a wordless benediction.

The second half of the evening was nearly a full glorious hour of Rachmainoff’s Symphony No. 2. If you’re going to do this music, it better be heart-on-sleeve and strings on full, and DeMain and the MSO gushed for all they were worth. That’s not to say that various brass, woodwinds and percussion didn’t chime in brilliantly as needed, and principal clarinetist Joseph Morris did his best imitation of a wind player that didn’t need to breathe. His endless solo in the sublime slow movement seemed to emerge from the center of the orchestra with a weightless quality that glowed around the edges. Suzanne Beia is acting concertmaster for this weekend’s concerts (the program is repeated on Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 2:30), and she offered notable solos on three occasions in the course of the evening.

But the overriding memory is of a string section that yet again set a new standard for blended phrasing and tone. What’s left except to count the days to next month’s “Christmas Spectacular?”

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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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