|Beethoven:||Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36|
|Walton:||Concerto for Viola and Orchestra|
|Respighi:||The Pines of Rome|
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Nokothula Ngwenyama, viola
Catherine Comet, conductor
Returning to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra after an absence of seven years, Catherine Comet again amply demonstrated a firm beat and tight control of tempo, which served her well in Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, played with exhuberant drama scaled to its classical constraints. Surprisingly, there were a few slips in first violin intonation here and there.
Comet demonstrated great flexibility and concentration in Walton's Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, attentively accompanying the amazing 22-year-old soloist, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, who played this gorgeous work with utter competence and extraordinary passion. Walton's orchestrational plan here is on the massive side, especially in the wind division, at times engulfing the solo line.
The program ended with an orchestral colossus, Respighi's The Pines of Rome. Conductor and players alike pulled out all the stops in the work's four sections. There was fine playing all around, but on Sunday clarinetist Linda Bartley's lyrical achievement was miraculous in the "Pines of the Janiculum" movement. The tour de force is the final section, "Pines of the Appian Way," which evokes the almighty Roman Legion's juggernaut on the march, its relentless rhythms reinforced by three additional pairs of trumpets at the top and either side of the balcony. The intention is to be overwhelming, and it was.
All three works on this program are very demanding for the MSO's players. The Sunday performances were notably more secure; guest conductors get only four rehearsals instead of the regular five, and the difference plainly showed.
Isthmus, February, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson