MSO’s lively music from the Age of Enlightenment
Music on this weekend’s MSO program hails from the Age of Enlightenment, and it sounded like it at Friday’s matinee. Even the clang and bang of “Turkish” percussion made Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 no less elegant, as Christopher Seaman led the Milwaukee Symphony in an endlessly charming and engaging program of 18th-century music.
A certain buoyancy held throughout this concert, which also included Handel’s Music from the Royal Fireworks, Mozart’s Concerto in E-flat for Two Pianos and Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz’s Concerto for Clarinet. This is not to say that everything sounded the same. On the contrary, the MSO pounced on Seaman’s nuanced understanding of the music. The playing fascinated with its fine detail and satisfied with its equilibrium and bright optimism.
Speaking of symmetry, the duo-pianists were the beautiful young Naughton twins, Christina and Michelle. After a brief bout of smeary articulation in the rapid passages of Mozart’s opening movement, they settled in for a warm, expressive reading of this sparkling virtuoso vehicle Mozart created for himself and his sister, Nannerl.
The Naughtons finish phrases elegantly and exchange them with seamless elegance. That counts, as Mozart loaded this lovely piece with intricate exchanges between the two pianos, sometimes amid phrases. These pianists had thought through and shaped every singing phrase in the slow movement, and those phrases sang eloquently Friday. And the Naughtons are no shy flowers, who sing with the slow stuff and disappear for the fireworks. Their explosive cadenza in the first movement made that clear.
Speaking of fireworks, the MSO, trimmed to Baroque scale, played Handel’s suite spectacularly. Mark Niehaus and Alan Campbell played the many exposed trumpet parts brilliantly and securely. Bassonists Ted Soluri and Martin Garcia handled the solos gracefully and, more important, electrified Handel’s busy, complicated bass lines.
Seamon conducted much of Royal Fireworks from the harpsichord. As in the Haydn, he brought out the detail and enforced a bracing clarity of rhythm and form. Seamon stayed at the keyboard for Stamitz’s Clarinet Concerto.
In this concerto, Stamitz cataloged just about everything possible on a clarinet in c. 1750. Not that much has changed; this formidable piece demands dazzling virtuosity. Todd Levy, the MSO’s principal clarinetist, approached its challenges from a very high place. Levy unfurled Stamitz’s scampering scales, densely ornate melodies, vertiginous arpeggios and lung-testing long phrases with expressive subtlety and unflappable calm.
In Romantic music, heroism involved showing the stress and strain and overcoming it. The Classical hero, the Enlightenment hero, concealed the effort under a cloak of elegance. That was Levy on Friday — heroic and effortless all at once.
This program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. For ticket, visit the MSO website or call the Marcus box office, 414 291-7605.