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Polite Performers

January 23, 2010

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra offered three interesting pieces during Friday’s show at Overture Center’s Capitol Theater, the most familiar of which was the least interesting. I am not using “interesting” in the pejorative sense here; however, expectations of guest artists The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet left some of us hoping for a little more, shall we say, zest in the evening’s performance.

That’s not to say WCO was not in fighting form. Many of the orchestra’s musicians shined in some of their brightest moments this season during “Variaciones Concertantes, op. 23” by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. The 12-part concerto comes from the composer’s “subjective nationalism” period, according to Norman Gilliland’s helpful “Grace Notes.”

The episodic, quirky 1953 composition opened with a duet that paired harpist Mary Ann Harr and cellist Karl Levine, an unusual combination that enabled each to demonstrate his or her considerable talents. As the piece progressed, other performers were allowed their time in the spotlight, a showcase for soloists that effectively enveloped the entire orchestra.

Ginastera’s work closed an evening that opened with Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz’s “Concerto for String Orchestra.” WCO’s string section performed well, as they almost always do, bringing finesse and emotion to the 1948 work. Although a bit austere, the composition has some truly intriguing passages that allowed the strings, led by concertmaster Suzanne Beia, some lovely and musically compelling moments.

Which brings us the evening’s centerpiece, Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Conceirto Andaluz,” and its guest artists, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet. Rodrigo, who was blind since age 3 and composed in Braille, originally wrote the three-movement work for the guitar quartet Los Romeros. Divided into a bolero, an adagio and an allegretto, the work is orderly, interesting and compositionally sound. The same could be said for MGQ’s performance.

Certainly, the group is subject to the rigors and limitations of the Rodrigo’s work and Maestro Andrew Sewell’s baton, and one can’t challenge their technical proficiency. However, Spanish guitar music brings to mind power, passion and perhaps a fiery edge to the proceedings. Those elements didn’t seem part of MGQ’s agenda. The same can be said of the unannounced – and perhaps a little forced – encore, which sounded like another movement of the same work.

During the intermission, words like “restrained” and “polite” were heard in the Capitol Theater’s lobby to describe MGQ’s performance. I don’t know, maybe it’s a Minnesota thing.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 6, 2010 5:27 pm

    Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

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