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Muses, Poets and Pipes

February 6, 2010

Zukerman and Forsyth Photo credit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org

There were moments during the final measures of Camille Saint-Saëns The Muse and the Poet, Op.132, part of Friday’s Madison Symphony Orchestra program, when it became clear that the piece perfectly captured the musical and personal relationship between guest artists and marriage partners Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth.

Zukerman, on violin, was the Muse, according to J. Michael Allsen’s extensive program notes. Forsyth, on cello, was the poet. As the 15-minute musical conversation, played against MSO’s orchestral backing, came to one of its richest exchanges, the formerly taciturn Forsyth let a smile creep to her lips. And then another.

“It’s best and easiest when I play with my husband,” she had told me earlier. As the gorgeous work reached its climax and drew one of three standing ovations last night, it was evident that Forsyth meant what she had said.

Forsyth had opened the evening with Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, a Hebrew chant for cello and orchestra that let the Canadian cellist explore her more romantic nature. The 11-minute adagio served to showcase Forsyth’s extensive capabilities, setting the stage for the work to come.

The audience responded more warmly to Mozart’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 5 in A Major, K. 219, which brought Zukerman to the stage to both solo and conduct a chamber-sized version of MSO comprised only of its string section. While the approach may be unusual for MSO, having a concertmaster performing and at the podium was once common practice for chamber orchestras. Unfortunately, it meant that Zukerman spent as much time with his back to the audience as facing it.

Nevertheless, the violin virtuoso soared through the teenage Mozart’s bright passages. The second movement, also an adagio, had a lovely flow and beautiful highlights, while the third movement, sometimes called the “Turkish” movement, galloped Zukerman through a rondo laced with Turkish and Gypsy themes. The composer’s last minute musical departure allowed for a rousing close, bring the audience to its feet for the first time.

The evening’s best moments, however, were reserved for Saint-Saëns, whose previously described Muse and Poet was the highlight of both Zukerman’s and Forsyth’s performances. Under the baton of Maestro John DeMain, MSO went on without them for the French composer’s Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op.78, also known as the “Organ” symphony and featuring MSO’s own Samuel Hutchison.

A thunderclap of a work, the Saint-Saëns symphony traveled robustly through eight different musical scenarios, underscored by Hutchison’s low registers and drawing much from MSO’s other players. Toward the end of the work, the composer lifted his restraints, allowing the Overture Concert Organ’s voice to be fully heard, startling and thrilling an enraptured and appreciative audience.

Talk about great pipes!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ann Stanke permalink
    February 10, 2010 7:51 pm

    Hi, Mike. The Mozart Violin Concerto had more than just strings in the orchestral accompaniment. Careful when you review!!!!!

    Ann

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