Sewell and Sitkovetsky Bring Out the Best of a Couple of “Bs”

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra reminds us that March isn’t always about “madness”

 

In their penultimate offering of this season’s Masterworks Series, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra brought breadth and beauty to Barber and Beethoven…and while the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team may have indulged in another round of “March Madness” just minutes before the first downbeat, Sewell and company demonstrated that there is plenty of room for boisterousness and beauty without going berserk.

Of course, it wouldn’t quite be a typical WCO/Sewell program any time of year without a dose of rarities. The Suite for String Orchestra of Joan Trimble was a nicely timed esthetic nod to the just passed St. Patrick’s Day. The three movements of the 1951 suite clearly revealed her influences—Howells and Vaughan Williams, to name two—and the twenty string players appeared to delight in the well-crafted tunes.

Likewise, the addition of winds and percussion for the Pastoral Suite of Larsson resulted in more than just new colors. After a moody slow introduction to a bright and punctuated first movement, the Andante ended with a rapt audience loath to break the spell just woven by the ensemble. The woodwinds were a particular delight in the brisk finale.

The soloist du jour is welcome back anytime: Alexander Sitkovetsky (pictured above) is a violinist who one hopes will spend a little more time on this side of “the Pond,” as he is currently based in London. As he had mentioned in a radio appearance earlier in the day, the Violin Concerto of Barber has not been played all that much in Europe, and this was really Sitkovetsky’s first go-round with it. The opening movement of the 1939 opus strikes some as similar in mood to the great concerto of Korngold; full of harmonic perfume and a melody that just seems to weave and waft its way like smoke. The second movement opened with an unforgettable solo by oboist Naomi Bensdorf Frisch; rarely does one hear such a line come alive with so much subtlety of dynamics and nuance of phrase. The finale fully engages one and all, a terrific tour de force of perpetual motion; all the participants fully earned the multiple curtain calls. Truth be told, it is the ferocious kind of finale that leave little room for an encore; one could scarcely blame a performer for feeling like he had already given the listeners’ their money’s worth. But Sitkovetsky happily responded with the other side of virtuosity: a Sarabande from J.S. Bach which illustrates that less can be more, and a single voice can be as persuasive as several dozen.

The second half gave us one of those works which might just be the perfect size, weight and period for a chamber orchestra, the Symphony No. 4 of Beethoven. As had occurred a month ago in Haydn, every player was clicking on all cylinders, whether in treacherous slow solos such as spun by clarinetist Nancy McKenzie in the slow movement, or the rapid fire, high-wire entrances for the bassoon as played by Amanda King Szczys. Start to finish, Sewell nailed down just the right tempos, and night’s end there is only question to debate: Are we in the midst of a “golden age” of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra? It’s worth a trip to the Capitol Theater on April 22 to help us decide.

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