Setapen spectacular in Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
The urgency hit you first, in Ilana Setapen‘s performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor Friday (Feb. 18), with Carlo Rizzi and the Milwaukee Symphony. She and the first theme advanced as companion forces of nature, gradually hastening through the elaborations that lead to a full orchestral restatement. Setapen’s substantial sound plus velocity read as unstoppable mass and momentum. It was thrilling, but not only that. She still found the lyricism in this famous tune, the infant held close during the determined gallop through the storm.
Setapen’s ardent high energy rode on spectacular skill. She tuned arpeggios perfectly and articulated scales neatly at high speed in the outer movements. In the slow movement, she couched the rhythms to make the lofty, melancholy theme float above the barely-there 3/4 pulse, which Rizzi and the orchestra rendered with great subtlety. Mendelssohn set out to show the violin in all its brilliance in the finale, and Setapen’s bold precision did just that. Her blazing tempo caught Rizzi and the orchestra a little by surprise, and it took a few bars for them to fall in with her. When they did — wow. The matinee audience went mad for the MSO’s associate concertmaster with good reason. Ilana Setapen is really something.
Rizzi showed great command of Shostakovich’s vast, dramatic Symphony No. 5. Both Rizzi and the MSO maintained energy steadily through the Fifth’s 45 minutes. They made it easy to pay attention.
He knew what he wanted at every meander of Shostakovich’s long, ethereal themes in the first movement. He drew out the searching, yearning qualities in them. In the second movement, the strings attended specifically to biting bows and the woodwinds to edgy timbres in the scherzo, which devolves into a loopy, dreamy trio. I liked the burst of energy that brought back the taut scherzo music; it was as if the boss walked into the room and everyone had to sit up and look busy.
The Largo begins with a solemn, yet lyrical hymn that dwindles down to a few quiet notes on the harp. Rizzi engineered that so slyly that the music seemed to leak slowly out of the room. The blazing finale has been the subject of debate since day 1. Is it a bitter parody of a redemptive ending, or just a failed ending? Friday, Rizzi and the MSO sold it as apotheosis.
None of that is easy, technically or conceptually. Shostakovich left generations of conductors lots of questions. Rizzi had convincing answers.
This program, given at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 19). Tickets are $25-$95; call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206.