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MSO: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Violin
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Program
Tchaikowsky: Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin
Tchaikowsky: Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 35
Tchaikowsky: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36

Performers
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
John DeMain, conductor

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The Madison Symphony Orchestra's penultimate subscription program of the current season, devoted to music by Tchaikowsky and played to impressively large houses both Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, brought forth torrents of applause, shouts of "Bravo!" and standing ovations for the players singly and collectively, for conductor John DeMain and for violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

Salerno-Sonnenberg's performances of the notoriously difficult Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 35 were marvels of passionate commitment, lyrical intensity and technical prowess, evoking both times a prolonged, wildly enthusiastic audience demonstration after the first movement, that is, in a very untraditional place. Disrupting as it was for the musicians who must then go on and complete the work, it made sense psychologically, I thought, because the playing was truly uncanny, even a bit on the eerie side: your conscious mind is telling you it's not possible to play like that while your eyes and ears are confirming that indeed it is, creating a level of excitement that needs to be released somehow.

But more important, ultimately, was the strictly musical excitement. Salerno-Sonnenberg and DeMain achieved an extraordinarily high level of communication and mutual responsiveness, as perfectly matched as I can imagine, both in the work's most demanding technical fireworks and in its achingly beautiful lyrical passages. You would have thought a couple thousand people were all holding their breath, so quiet was it in the hall for the heavenly pianissimo introduction to the slow movement.

Great credit must also go to what DeMain has created with this orchestra: the skill, discipline and enthusiasm to negotiate virtually faultlessly the concerto's lightning-swift changes of tempo and dynamics, somewhat like turning a race car on a dime. Rewarding, too, were the rich, full sound and rhythmic vigor of the program's opening offering, the Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin.

After intermission came the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op 36. Here too musical intensity and remarkable technical strengths were much in evidence, and in every section of the ensemble: strings, winds and percussion. Tchaikowsky's rich orchestration makes major demands on wind soloists, and in each case -- flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, trumpet and French horn -- the playing was quite impressive. Overall, the work got its due from DeMain and the MSO: a transparently clear detailing of the score. After all, that's the primary ideal of musical performance, and witnessing it was deeply satisfying.

Isthmus, April, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson




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