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Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart … Oh My!

April 13, 2013

When an orchestra receives a more enthusiastic audience response that its internationally known guest soloist, that response says something not only about audience expectations, but also the orchestra’s ability to fulfill them. When the group is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, such a response no longer comes as any surprise.

WCO, under the baton of Maestro Andrew Sewell, closed is season Friday at the Capitol Theater in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts with a rich program that lived up to the series name of Masterworks. The two-hour concert was bookended by Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 in G minor (La Poule) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major. Sandwiched in between were the Joseph Cantaloube’s  Chants d’Auvergne and a pair of Mozart arias masterfully performed without amplification by soprano Susannah Phillips.

Phillips’ soaring voice and delicate phrasing left none in the audience wondering why she had just completed her fifth consecutive season with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Yet her performances — which included Cantaloube’s haunting, heartbreaking “”Bailero”, the famous “Non di mir” aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and the composer’s rarely heard “Bella mia fiamma” – were greeted with respectful and appreciative applause.

The audience saved its cheers, applause and standing ovation for the Beethoven, which closed the evening.

That’s not to say the enthusiasm was not deserved. WCO and Sewell performed with their usual gusto, delivering the work and its familiar third movement “Scherzo: Allegro” with the precision and tempo required to bring the music to life. Sewell himself looked like he was getting more of a workout during that number that he did throughout the entire rest of the program.

But then the response may have been for more than just the Beethoven composition. Haydn received the same doses of energy and finesse, and Phillips’ performance was superb in its delivery. (At the close of the second Mozart aria, written for his hostess, soprano Josefa Dusek, who was jealous of the Donna Anna role in Don Giovanni for which she had been overlooked, Sewell accidently kicked over his music stand — a curious but effective way to signal his enthusiasm for Phillips’ performance.)

Instead, the ovation may have been for one of the best conceived and executed WCO concerts in this and many other seasons, and perhaps the season itself. Sewell has made himself and WCO a hard act to follow, but we’re confident they will once again rise to the occasion for the 2013-2014 Masterworks series.

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