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MSO: Bach, Hagen, Sibelius

J. S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G Major, BWV 1049
Daron Hagen: Taliesin: Choruses from Shining Brow
Sibelius: Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op.43

Madison Symphony Orchestra
Tyrone Grieve, violin
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Tina Kakuske, flute
John DeMain, conductor


The Madison Symphony Orchestra ignited its second season under the dramatically inspired creative leadership of John DeMain with stellar performances of the brightest magnitude. Playing to a full house at the Oscar Mayer Theatre Saturday evening and to a gratifyingly large audience Sunday afternoon, DeMain, the MSO and the Madison Symphony Chorus presented an unusual but intriguing program.

Violinist Tyrone Grieve and flutists Stephanie Jutt and Tina Kakuske were all outstanding in J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G Major, BWV 1049. Grieve had little trouble with exceedingly fleet solo passagework in the outer two movements, a challenge augmented by DeMain's refreshingly brisk tempos. The flute parts are also quite difficult, though both Jutt and Kakuske made it sound easy. The MSO uses modern string and wind instruments, of course; this means they must either forgo the enormous pleasure of performing Baroque repertory or adopt some of the practices of period-instrument orchestras. DeMain charted a successful course through this interpretational thicket, using a 26-member string group, just and even tempos, light and springy articulations, crisp ensemble, and a solid rhythmic bass foundation. The Saturday performance was slightly cleaner, while the Sunday one was a touch warmer. Both were very fine.

Daron Hagen's Taliesin: Choruses from Shining Brow received its world premiere, completing the first half of the program. Comprising five reworked sections based on music from his 1993 opera Shining Brow joined to a new concluding section, the work is attractive despite a certain awkwardness in the choral texts. The chorus was thoroughly prepared and gave an energetic and careful performance. The orchestral sections, some of them quite tricky to play and conduct, were also appealing. The music includes many of the opera's best features and very few of its weaknesses. A more American style -- wide-open, spacious, warm and friendly -- would be hard to imagine. To my ear it sensibly evokes the broad fields and inviting hills one still sees today from Taliesin, looking out onto the fertile green Wyoming Valley.

By far the most stunning part of the program, in terms of its inspiration, drama, and intensity, was the Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op.43, by Sibelius. Fervent emotion, careful attention to detail (especially dynamics, including silences), totally luminous playing by strings, winds and percussion, and above all a coherent but remarkably flexible vision of the whole 43-minute work from the podium combined for two absolutely remarkable performances, greeted in both instances by shouts of Bravo! from all sides.

The MSO has already surpassed good and is well along on the path to excellent. It's exciting that community support for this rapidly rising standard is building so nicely for the orchestra. The proof is in the pudding: they are definitely earning it.

Isthmus, September, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson

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