Tom Strini
MSO German Fest 3

Four stellar guest artists

By - Feb 5th, 2011 12:38 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

MSO rehearsal, Feb. 3, 2011. TCD photo by Nickolas Nikolic.

Tectonic plates move slowly, so slowly we can’t detect the motion. Then there’s an earthquake.

Act 1 to Wagner’s Die Walküre, which the Milwaukee Symphony and guests performed Friday, is like that. Nothing much seems to happen for a long time. But if his pace is geologic, so is his force. Pressure builds; Friday, it finally escaped with devastating power. But Wagner didn’t do it alone. Without conductor Edo de Waart’s canny management of the build-up, without an orchestra that was intent and energized throughout, and without three singers capable of driving the music over the top and sustaining tension on the way there, Wagner would have been so much droning tedium.

Andrea Silvestrelli’s bass is a force of nature, just the massive blunt instrument to embody Hunding,  the brutish husband of Sieglinde. Silvestrelli also happens to be a big man and a sinister presence, which helped the character to play in a concert setting.

Silvestrelli, soprano Margaret Jane Wray, tenor Clifton Forbis and whoever directed them handled the acting intelligently. Acting is a dicey business in Wagner under the best circumstances and even moreso in a concert setting. They moved minimally and made no contact until the very end, but their faces helped their voices and the music tell the story. They sang from memory and remained in the moment while singing or silent, and their restraint carried the day.

The MSO and Wray begged the audience’s indulgence via a pre-concert announcement stating that she was ill but soldiering on as best she could. Wray, as Sieglinde, sounded just fine to me — big, rich, expressive, accurate. Every singer should be so sick. Forbis, as the hero Siegmund, has that true heldentenor brilliance, intensity and power, but he only brings it out at climactic moments. His transformation from a vocal Clark Kent into Superman drove the climax of the whole piece. It also showed that Forbis is one singer who understands context and knows that his voice is not the most important thing. His singing served Wagner’s grand plan. When Forbis, Wray, de Waart and the MSO took the music over the top, the earth moved.

Big-time pianists have played Beethoven piano concertos in each MSO German Festival program, of which this is the last. Friday, Emanuel Ax took on the Fourth, the most explosively virtuosic of all Beethoven’s piano concertos. Wild piano runs dash about the themes in the first movement. Ax’s bracing clarity, rhythmic, astonishing speed and utter accuracy would have been enough. On top of that, Ax added a world of nuance at high speed, particularly fascinating shifts between elegant legato and a staccato delivery and specific as machine-gun fire.

The massed strings yell rhetorically to start the second movement. The piano answers with a gentle chorale. The strings bellow again; the piano extends the chorale. And again; this time, Beethoven and Ax answered with an exquisite theme in which each note is as perfect and touching as a teardrop. The strings reply quitely; music has soothed the savage beast. The vigor, momentum and spectacular virtuosity of the finale got the audience to its feet for a wild ovation. Ax eventually responded with Schumann’s sweet, calming Des Abends, Opus 12 No. 1 from Schumann Fantasiestücke. (Thanks, Stefanie Jacob, for identifying the encore.)

This program, given at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 5). Tickets are $25-$95; call 414 273-7206. Student rush is $12 for the best available seat one hour before concert time.

Categories: Classical

0 thoughts on “MSO German Fest 3: Four stellar guest artists”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Precisely. And what I appreciated about Ax’s performance was his deep involvement with the orchestra. Beethoven piano concertos benefit greatly from the exact interplay of soloist and orchestra, grounded in timing, dynamics, and tone. Ax frequently looked to the orchestra and de Waart, making himself a member of an ensemble. Given his international fame, this attitude was exemplary. I’ve seen other solists here who were technically good but too detached from the performance. Not so Ax.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for commenting, Greg. — Strini

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tom – Your comments on Tectonic forces at work seemed to describe the situation well. Clifton Forbes brought his voice to an extraordinary level rising well above a full volume orchestra in the climax, when Sigmund cried ‘Walse!’ – imploring his father to help, That and the dramatic bass string opening storm made me reconsider whether I have invested enough in home hi-fidelity. But you can’t bring a concert like this home.
    Although Margeret Jane Wray sang well despite her illness, she was not able to rise to the second climax in this act – when Sigmund and Siglinde discover their true relationship and yet declare their love. In the talk back after Friday’s concert, Edo de Waart shared that he stepped up the pace during Wray’s singing so that she would not have to sustain long notes.
    Andrea Silvestrelli was such a perfect fit in the title role in Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle in 2009. His voice matched the elemental other-worldly character. The voice appears to lack dimensions that could be applied to more complex, human characters. Silvestrelli delivered a chilling portrayal of Hunding. Was Hunding appropriately that one-dimensional?
    Walkure’s Act I is a substantial challenge to “stage” in a concert setting. The singers as actors were often like clay-mation figures – frozen in one configuration while the orchestra played dramatic interludes that often told more of the story.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Indeed. The total involvement of orchestra, conductor and soloist again on Saturday night was evident in a performance that was articulate, powerful and an unbroken line from beginning to end. Maestro de Waart has been in synch with each of his guest pianists to make some sublime music the past 3 weeks.

  5. Anonymous says:

    A primeval, racy, cave-like exultancy rewarded the scholarship,
    energy and commitment of the musicians and husky Packer mindset of the audience throughout this post-blizzard merge of sympatico repertoire from the errant flesh of Beethoven and Wagner. Poor
    Liszt, trapped in his Weimar birthday party, would have loved to have been in the grotto with us.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Four different commenters on the same MSO review. We have the beginnings of a conversation. I’m pleased and grateful that you all took the time to read and then to share. I hope you’ll all come back, and I hope you’ll encourage your friends to come and comment, too. — Strini

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *