|Barber:||Essay No. 2, Op. 17|
|Daniel Asia:||Piano Concerto (1995)|
|Copland:||Symphony No. 3|
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
André-Michel Schub, piano
Lawrence Leighton Smith, conductor
Only rarely have my expectations of a concert been as frustrated as they were by the performance of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Thursday evening at the Union Theater. Conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith's readings of the delightful works that opened and closed the program -- Barber's Essay No. 2, Op. 17 and Copland's Symphony No. 3 -- were interpretively arresting, but the standard of playing was far below that achieved by Zdenek Macal during his tenure as the orchestra's music director. Throughout the program there were serious lapses of ensemble and not a few intonation problems in both string and wind divisions.
The program's major potential interest, Daniel Asia's 1995 Piano Concerto was even more disappointing, despite the obvious mastery and keen emotional commitment of the soloist, André-Michel Schub, who together with a group of orchestras had commissioned the work. The concerto's three movements were all hampered by an excess of climaxes, many of them merely bombastic rather than imperative for formal reasons. The finale, which with its dancelike movement was at least rhythmically vital, suffered from a pale comparison to Bartok. The middle movement, marked "slow and serene," was indeed slow, but its serenity was compromised by extended solo passages that for all their really beautiful pianism (Schub is a wonderful player) replaced genuine lyricism with a line that sounded algorithmic (computer-generated) rather than improvisatory and merely vague rather than truly expressive. In all, the piece contained only enough material for a work about a third of its nearly 40-minute duration. The audience seemed to like it better than I did, however, for they enthusiastically applauded the performers and the composer, who was present.
Isthmus, April, 1996
Copyright 1996 Jess Anderson