Beautiful Beethoven (times two) closes chamber orchestra season

Shai Wosner
The Capital Times

By Lindsay Christians

To dispense with the analysis for a moment — Friday night's Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performance was simply wonderful.

The orchestra's final Masterworks performance of 2010-11 was anchored by Beethoven — the stunning seventh symphony, as well as an elegant performance of his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major by last-minute replacement Shai Wosner.

Maestro Andrew Sewell opened with a four-minute snippet he deemed an "amusez l'oreille," the audio equivalent of the tiny bite fancy restaurants provide to excite a diner's palate.

The first movement of John Rutter's Suite for Strings, called "A-Roving," riffed on a jaunty sea shanty and gave a nod toward the lighter fare coming this summer around the Capitol Square.

Wojciech Kilar, a classical and film composer, was inspired to write "Orawa" in 1986 by the folklore of southern Poland and northern Slovakia. The chamber orchestra embraced this cinematic piece, starting with a simple repeated rhythm featuring concertmaster Leanne Kelso League that faded to near silence before bursting into a bright forte.

Wosner started Beethoven's concerto with a softness like a lullaby, with a light touch in the first movement and a delicacy he threaded throughout. He was nimble and precise on rapid sixteenth notes, but easy, too, almost becoming background in some sections. The orchestra maintained a careful balance, passing melodies between the winds and strings.

Wosner's Beethoven frequently had a romantic tone, fluttering in the high octaves during one early cadenza. Especially engaging was the lively third movement (Rondo — Vivace), a buoyant section that contrasted slow, lyrical moments with a tripping melody.

Locals may have last heard Beethoven's seventh in February 2009, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra programmed it on a concert with pianist Olga Kern (playing the Piano Concerto No. 3).

On Friday, the chamber orchestra gave this grateful audience member the opportunity to hear it again. The work is gorgeous, Beethoven at his best.

In the first movement (Poco sostenuto — Vivace), big chords leap like jumping fish within a lyrical line. But Sewell had a gentle touch with the piece, emphasizing the power the orchestra can bring without sacrificing Beethoven's striking dynamic contrasts.

Despite a few noticeable flubs in the brass, the entire work was a joy to hear. The Allegretto had a dancelike feel, building layers of sound like bricks in a wall.

The third movement (Presto) showcased clean, clear melodies in the oboe and flute. Sewell's precision and energy emerged most fully in the closing Allegro, with its driving rhythms and exciting finale.

The Masterworks may be done, but these musicians are not. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra kicks off Concerts on the Square on Wednesday, June 29 with a "Young at Heart" program featuring award-winner Amy Hua and dancers from the Madison Ballet.