Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Bets on Beethoven … and Wins
Classical Music 101 (a.k.a. Walt Disney’s Fantasia) gave many of us our first taste of some of the greatest works in the classical canon matched with arresting animation that was state of the art in 1939. But as the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra proved once again, the music itself, beautifully performed, has enough color and vibrancy to paint it’s own evocative pictures.
Thus, it was a delight to revisit Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, also know as the “Pastoral,” which anchored WCO’s February 24 concert at the Capitol Theater. The five-movement work, illustrated by the animated antics of mythical creatures in the Disney film, comprised the second half of an evening of mostly Beethoven, with some unusual Benjamin Britten thrown in for the contrast. Clocking in at nearly 2½ hours, Friday’s concert also had to be one of the longest WCO performances on record.
The Britten work was drawn from the English composer’s brief flirtation with film scoring, calling on the talents of only a dozen WCO players. The “End Sequence” from Night Mail, a 1936 collaborative work between Britten and poet W.H Auden, was an expressive composition made even more so by the inclusion of American Players Theatre actor James Ridge, who narrated Auden’s poetry during the musical tale of a mail train’s journey to Scotland.
The instrument lineup included unusual percussion, a wind machine and even a pressurized air tank to simulate the sound of the steam engine braking. The brief composition, which opened the evening, may have been one of the most novel choices of WCO Artistic Director’s Andrew Sewell career, and it furthered the musical and theatrical education of many of us in the audience.
Ridge returned to lectern and, in encore, performed familiar passages from Shakespeare’s Richard III, a role he will be playing during APT’s 2012 summer season. “Be kind,” Ridge asked. “I am still working on this.” Based on audience applause, there was no need to ask.
Then it was on to Beethoven and the Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 with guest artist Alexander Sitkovetsky. The 1806 work, roughly twice the length of other violin concertos of the day, was originally composed for Viennese theater violinist Franz Clement, but did not come into its own until Joseph Joachim’s performance under Felix Mendelssohn’s baton nearly 40 years later.
The three-movement work called for considerable energy and dexterity from the Moscow-born Sitkovetsky, who did not disappoint. The young performer delivered during both solo and orchestral passages, the later of which sometimes seemed to periodically drown the instrument’s voice. However, the immediate standing ovation the artist received at the end of the 40-minute work showed there was no harm done.
Sitkovetsky came back to the stage for a brief solo encore of a Bach sarabande in E, which also received an enthusiastic response.
As mentioned, the evening closed with the “Pastoral,” which showcased WCO’s usually impressive string section. Combined with woodwinds and brass, the performance once again proved WCO’s worth, and the lush melodies expertly delivered didn’t once make us think of satyrs, nymphs and other creatures of myth.