De Waart’s triumphant start
A big crowd gave new maestro Edo de Waart a warm welcome before the concert and a hero’s ovation after it Saturday evening, as the Milwaukee Symphony opened its 51st classical subscription season.
De Waart started his tenure as music director with something big, Mahler’s vast, complex Symphony No. 5. I’d always heard this piece as a lofty philosophical document. It had depth Saturday, particularly in a slow movement that read as a love song so private, of such quivering delicacy, that it seemed more imagined than sung.
But the balance of the music came off as a boisterous celebration of everything a mighty, virtuosic symphony orchestra can do and everything an outrageously imaginative composer could think of to do with it. Brilliant fanfares from Mark Niehaus’ trumpet and elegant melodies from the horn of William Barnewitz signaled miraculous transformations throughout the work. Marches became klezmer tunes and ardent, glamorous songs became dances and light fantastics became stomping furies before our very ears. All the while, virtuoso ornaments hovered and darted about the ever-changing main themes.
The high anxiety of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”) opened the program. De Waart tuned the harmonies of the first movement to a serrated edge and made desperate jollity of the crazed dance of a scherzo.
The Lamentation, the final movement, was also a revelation, as it introduced us to mezzo Sasha Cooke. This is a big, rich, intensely present voice driven by perceptive musical intelligence. Her singing was beautiful in many ways: as outraged protest, as utter despair, and as a lonely voice crying out amid the aftermath of disaster.
This program, given at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 27). Visit the MSO web site for more information. Call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206, for tickets.