Tom Strini
MSO German Fest 2

Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven

By - Jan 29th, 2011 12:08 am
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Edo de Waart rehearses the MSO.

Conductors don’t make their reputations with Schumann’s Symphony No. 3. It’s not flashy and the rhythms are straightforward. But a lot can go wrong; Schumann scored it so densely it can turn heavy and dull. If the conductor fails to sort out the balances just so, no light can escape from it.

Friday night, Edo de Waart and the ever alert and eager Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra made it shine from within. De Waart even coaxed some rhythmic buoyancy from it. Despite the thick scoring, the main theme of the first movement played out as a lofty dance, and de Waart somehow carried its momentum through the darker second theme. The cellos helped a lot through all this. They intermittently accompanied with a rising, rapid ostinato; they couched it perfectly against the meter and made it sound like a ricochet off the downbeat. That went a long way toward putting a spring in Schumann’s step.

This symphony begins optimistically, continues to one of those Romantic hike-in-the-country scherzo/pastorales, then grows more introspective through two slower movements. The first blooms with an almost unbearably sweet nostalgia. In the second, a blazing dawn in the brass finally ends tortured brooding. Friday, the entire symphony read as a novel of existential crisis ending in affirmation after a dark night of the soul. The hearty, energized finale turns on melodies not so distant from the hearty student songs in Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, which opened this second of three MSO German Fest weekends.

Brahms was having fun and showing off in the Overture, and de Waart approached it in that spirit. He charged ahead and urged brilliance in the fast passages. He sprung the student songs on us like punchlines of jokes.

Garrick Ohlsson

Garrick Ohlsson, one of the grand figures among international pianists, has come to be identified mainly with Chopin over the last decade or two. He’s played a lot of Chopin here over the years.

He also gets Beethoven. Ohlsson charged the opening virtuoso flourishes with a confident, easy grandeur that said: I command this music and this instrument. He made it stick. Ohlsson is a big guy, and he used his size and strength to nearly knock the piano off its legs in those wild octave-doubled runs in the development in the first movement. It was outrageous in a fitting, thrilling way. In the second movement, after the strings murmured an ardent hymn as if into folded hands,  Ohlsson answered not only by playing softly, but by dropping in the notes in the last possible nanonsecond, as if he couldn’t bear to let any of them go.

After an especially boisterous and jolly finale — what a trickster Beethoven was, promising a Rondo then spinning off into a crazy development halfway through — Ohlssohn rewarded his cheering audience with an encore. No, not Chopin; this is German Fest. Instead, he cast us into reverie with a performance of the Adagio cantabile from Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata. Very satisfying.

The MSO will repeat this program, given at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call the Marcus box office, 414 273-7206.

0 thoughts on “MSO German Fest 2: Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You’re welcome, Winnie! Thanks for dropping by TCD. — Strini

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Brahms was quite an “entrance”, very in-your-face, but in 2011 terms. I wonder if Brahms would have gotten away with such naughtiness. The third movement of the Schumann Symphony gave special reason for welcome on the program, amd for the orchestra to play something German that isn’t silly or drenched in excess.

    Garrick Ohlsson was obviously spry and in good spirits Saturday evening. The Emperor was an example of how to stretch Beethoven’s piano writing as far away from percussion as anyone could imagine and l communicate with the audience who were on the very edge of their seats throughout.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your comment, Valerie. I keep hoping we’ll get more of a discussion going, here. — Strini

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