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MSO: J. S. Bach

J. S. Bach: Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067
J. S. Bach: Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042
J. S. Bach: Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243

Madison Symphony Orchestra
Jennifer Frautschi, violin
Laura Barron, flute
Sarah Lawrence, soprano
Kitt Reuter-Foss, mezzo-soprano
Marion Dry, mezzo-soprano
Scott Ramsay, tenor
Paul Rowe, baritone
Madison Symphony Chorus
Madison Diocesan Choir
John DeMain, conductor


Performing in two venues as different as night and day, members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, seven soloists and two choirs, with John DeMain conducting, provided a resoundingly successful celebratory antidote to our more typical seasonal fare: three masterworks by J. S. Bach. Both performances played to highly enthusiastic capacity audiences.

The MSO's principal flutist Laura Barron was at an acoustic disadvantage in the MATC Mitby Theater's dry surround Saturday evening; the strings had to restrain themselves considerably for her relatively soft instrument to be heard in the Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067. Liberated on Sunday by the more resonant space of the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, both soloist and orchestra could achieve the brilliance, elegance and delight embedded in this tricky score. Barron played with great technical command and musical confidence.

Confidence to a frankly startling degree marked violinist Jennifer Frautschi's playing in the Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042, helped in part by her extraordinary Stradivarius instrument. She didn't just perform the piece, which is deceptively difficult; she nailed it, twice! In the outer quick movements, Frautschi made no noticeable concessions to Baroque style, but in the concerto's remarkable adagio, she summoned lyrical depth, passionate intensity and glorious sound well beyond what we usually hear.

The ebullience of the Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243, first heard in Leipzig Christmas week of 1723, still uplifts and delights this 250th year after the composer's death. With trumpets and drums, with strings, flutes, oboe d'amore and bassoon, with chorus and five vocal soloists, this "making great" is indeed festive. Of the soloists (soprano Sarah Lawrence, mezzo Kitt Reuter-Foss, alto Marion Dry, tenor Scott Ramsay, baritone Paul Rowe), the standout performance was by Ramsay, whose aria "Deposuit potentes" was clear, strong and sure, despite its extreme pitch range and very fleet tempo. The combined Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Diocesan Choir, at 160 too many voices by a factor of three or four, especially in the Pastoral Center's very live surround, made up in obviously ardent, joyful sound much of what was lost in contrapuntal clarity.

Not least of the impressive strengths in these performances was the steady but supple beat of DeMain's right hand and the subtle expressivity of his left, always shaping just the right amount of breath into the lyrical details of each phrase, whether vocal or instrumental. It's actually an uncommon talent and always inspiring to witness.

Isthmus, December, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson

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