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MSO: Jon Kimura Parker, Piano

Hindemith: Symphony "Mathis der Maler"
   Concert of Angels
   Temptation of St. Anthony
Schumann: Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 64
Prokofiev: "Romeo and Juliet" Suites 1-2, Opp. 64a-b
   The Montagues and the Capulets
   Juliet the Young Girl
   Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene
   The Death of Tybalt
   Romeo and Juliet before Parting
   Romeo and Juliet's Grave

Madison Symphony Orchestra
Jon Kimura Parker, piano
John DeMain, conductor


In the Madison Symphony Orchestra's penultimate subscription pair the players negotiated daunting technical thickets, conductor John DeMain brought himself and them to fever-pitched intensity, and pianist Jon Kimura Parker earned two well-deserved standing ovations. In a way topping even that, the program itself was a tribute and a challenge to performers and audience alike: three very serious works, none of them commonly heard these days.

Parker's command of the solo part in Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor was as close to note-perfect as it gets. Verging on a quibble, I would have preferred a somewhat less driving bravura in the first-movement cadenza, but there was also ample very poetic playing there and everywhere else in the score. The audience response was hugely enthusiastic, prompting Parker to offer a brief but brilliant jazz encore, Art Tatum's improvization on "Running Wild." New to me, Parker is quite a find, and I hope we can have him back.

Hindemith's Symphony "Mathis der Maler" (1934) features both brilliant orchestration and contrapuntal tightness on the level of J.S. Bach. It is also uncompromisingly difficult. Its content is based on the deeply spiritual struggles of the 15th-16th century painter Mathias GrÜnewald, who renounced his art in 1525. Hindemith's music exquisitely parallels the drama of GrÜnewald's masterwork, the Isenheim Alterpiece, both creations using formal clarity to encase the emotional intensity of an artist's idealism in conflict with the harshness of the real world. The performances were not flawless, but the instabilities were quite small and as usual the second one improved noticeably on the first in expressive range.

I would have given a gold star the first time for the selection of six movements from Prokofiev's two Romeo and Juliet ballet suites, but the second performance featured even more brilliant playing and even more stunning expressive fervor. The story of the star-crossed lovers has had two surpassingly great tellings, the original by Shakespeare and Prokofiev's ballet, which one must have seen to get the most from the suites, I think. It's all there: the drama of conflict and the delicacy of love's transport comingled with the aching sadness of loss. In an unusual, even daring programming move, the MSO's two concerts ended with the softest sigh.

It was an artistic triumph. The audience came to their feet with shouts of "Bravo!" and so did I.

Isthmus, March, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson

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