Tom Strini

Setapen spectacular in Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

By - Feb 18th, 2011 03:49 pm
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Ilana Setapen

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.

Rhythmic wit is the thing in Stravinsky’s brief Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra (not so small, really, about 50). The music amuses in the way of Petrouchka, with antic themes; tripped-up meters and dance rhythms; nutty polytonal tangents; and Mutt-and-Jeff instrument pairings. (Notably Randall Montgomery’s tuba with Mark Niehaus’ trumpet.) Rizzi sorted out the rhythms and balances with utter precision and clarity, which are essential here. He also got the players to phrase Stravinsky’s melodic gestures to realize the comedy in them.

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.

Carlo Rizzi, MSO guest conductor.

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.

0 thoughts on “MSO: Setapen spectacular in Mendelssohn Violin Concerto”

  1. Anonymous says:

    We went Mad…..yes, we did!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Speed does not unnerve Setapen. She has found a way to skate through phrases, selecting the critical notes and sounding them precisely in quick strikes of the bow. Another player would produce a clacking of bow hitting strings, losing the melody in the process.
    Rizzi demonstrated complete mastery of Shostakovich – managing the tension and development of the work. This kept the audience at the edge of their seats a second time. And produced a second standing ovation.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As usual, Tom, your review excites me even more for tonight’s performance. I heard Ilana’s mindblowing beauty at, believe it or not, Marvin Hamlisch’s 50s concert on New Year’s Eve. She had a few solos in a Broadway melody, and her high register sparkled like a plate of diamonds (?).

    Also, if I may ask, do you know when the MSO will announce its new season? They’re one of the last major orchestra to do so and I can’t wait to see what Strauss, Nielsen, and Mahler will be played next season.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great concert; great review that was spot on!

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