Tom Strini

MSO’s lively music from the Age of Enlightenment

By - Mar 25th, 2011 04:20 pm
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The Naughtons

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.

I refer to such details as Seaman brought to the last iteration of the main Menuet theme in the Haydn symphony. He slowed it down and added weight, to bring ceremonial grandeur to the moment and closure to the third movement of the symphony. More generally, he framed and flagged crucial structural moments, as if to say: Ready? The principal theme’s coming back! This isn’t what you’d want, perhaps, in Richard Strauss, but Seaman’s approach made perfect sense in music that is all about structual clarity and symmetry.

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.

0 thoughts on “MSO’s lively music from the Age of Enlightenment”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Todd Levy stole the show – fantastic!

  2. Anonymous says:

    What was the encore the Naughtons performed on Saturday? It was spectacular!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sorry Richard, wasn’t there Saturday and they did not play an encore Friday. Anyone?
    I’ll try to find out. — Strini

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s too bad that they didn’t play an encore on Friday. The nearly-sold out audience on Saturday loved them so much that they played some sort of bat-out-of-hell arrangement of Paganini’s 24th caprice. It sounded modern. Do you know of any featuring two pianos?

  5. Anonymous says:

    The Handel Royal Fireworks Music was suited up with a sanguinity of just the “right sort” which its endearing phlegmatic snottiness likes to reward itself with, and which seems to invent the offices it served. The guest conductor, Christopher Seaman has quite a presence on harpsichord.

    The Naughton’s two-piano Mozart concerto was chilly, smoky and sinewy, and adorable to watch. Their encore vehicle, the high-wristed Lutoslowski’s Paganini Variantions for two pianos, a fingerbuster of growing popularity, brings to mind a trend envy nouveau resembling that evoked by Droid entertainments spinning in to upstage Sunday football. During intermission, audience members expressed amazement at how well the two were joined in their playing.

    It was not at all insignificant that Todd Levy and the chamber-like Stamitz concerto should follow heavily projecting works such as the examples above. Indeed, it was like two concerts altogether, the one before and the one after. It was a prime demonstration of what can be done with a free dynamic outside of the metric box. “Silver” of the genuine variety is the word for it–the silver of truth with a veritable patina.

    Haydn Symphony number 100 was the perfect tongue-in-cheek ‘Military” piece to mirror the Royal Fireworks”. Its smoking room essence was that of a brandy-warmed insiders’ joke in tweed.

    A perfect way to complete a “right sort of concert”.

    It was great to see the hall full. During the pre-concert talk on Saturday, we were let in on important artistic workings behind the scenes, and were asked if we want concerts with all new music or Beethoven, and Beethoven won. It could and should be argued that Beethoven was himself an an imbodiment of futurism, and it was good news to those of us who lean towards compositions which are new will be rewarded with the Grosse Fugue.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Facebook pal Valerie Joan Kramer tells me the encore was this:

  7. Anonymous says:

    sorry I meant to say we were asked if we wanted “Beethoven Symphonies”

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting, VJK. — Strini

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the encore title! The Naughtons gave an amazing performance of Mozart, and their encore was stunning.

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