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MSO: Beethoven's First and Ninth Symphonies

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125

Madison Symphony Orchestra
Madison Symphony Chorus
Elizabeth Jones, soprano
Ilona Kombrink, mezzo-soprano
Gregory Hopkins, tenor
Donnie Ray Albert, baritone
John DeMain, conductor


Much has already been said about the Madison Symphony Orchestra, its new music director John DeMain, the MSO's staff and organization, its community support, its history, and its great promise for the future. These elements all blossomed to a wondrous climax when DeMain and the MSO presented an all-Beethoven program at the Oscar Mayer Theatre Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Now that this first season of the "new" MSO has ended, it's time to accord full recognition and our abject admiration to the orchestra's extraordinary players, not omitting the chorus, for it seemed to me that in their twice-told realization of the first and last symphonies by the incomparable Beethoven, these people achieved their individual and collective best in the eternal quest for superior quality in musical performance.

The precision, tightness, intonation, ensemble, and other musical qualities associated with music of the Classical period were amply demonstrated in both performances of the Symphony No. 1 in C Major. Outwardly easy to comprehend but inwardly complex and technically extremely demanding to play, the work gleamed with a beacon-like clarity.

As for the Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, the two performances were rather different from one another. Had I heard only the first, I would have been quite prepared to render unstinting praise, for DeMain revealed many details I hadn't previously noticed in the work. But Sunday afternoon surpassed even that, because DeMain and the instrumentalists, soloists and chorus simply pulled out all the stops: they went all the way, and believe me, the result was completely overwhelming. I'm not sure I would think such a performance possible, had I not been there to witness it, and I will confess I did so in a highly emotional state. Soprano Elizabeth Jones, mezzo Ilona Kombrink, tenor Gregory Hopkins and baritone Donnie Ray Albert all also gave it everything they had, bringing tremendous vitality and integrity to their performances. Success on such a scale is something of a miracle to witness, and I'm glad to report that two full houses agreed, with long and richly deserved standing ovations, to salute and celebrate a remarkably emotional triumph of joy. "Yes," I kept thinking, "this is what it can be, what it must be." Bravo to each and every one of you, and my deepest, most heartfelt thanks for this longed-for enrichment for the community.

Isthmus, May, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson

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