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MSO: Salemno Conducts, with Cecile Licad, Piano
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Program
Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
St.-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major, Op. 100

Performers
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Cecile Licad, piano
Louis Salemno, conductor

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The Madison Symphony Orchestra's program Sunday afternoon at the Oscar Mayer Theatre featured music by Ravel, St.-Saëns and Prokofiev, with guest conductor Louis Salemno on the podium. Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin is idiomatically a piano piece, and I had not until now heard a performance of its orchestral version -- made by the composer -- that seemed to me to catch its essential character: lightness, airiness, delicacy, transparency and fluidity, tinged with intimate sadness or regret. The piano's smaller tonal range and color palette, compared to those of a fairly large orchestra, is ordinarily far more responsive and adept at sudden emphasis and shifts of phrasing, but Salemno succeeded in all such matters with no apparent difficulty. The reading had polish, wonderful balance and persuasively shaped phrases.

Cecile Licad was the soloist in St-Saëns' Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22. It's a major understatement to say she put it away. In every regard her playing was stupendous. It had rock-solid pianism, technical fire and uncommon passion in its brilliant passages, yet in the long solo that opens the work as elsewhere in its three movements there was also extraordinary lyricism, stately spaciousness and delicate subtlety. Licad was from the first a very gifted artist, but she is now returning to a concert career after a long hiatus, during which she has clearly become an outstanding musical force. Salemno was an attentive partner. You might hear other excellent performances of this piece, but I very much doubt you'll ever hear a better one. At its conclusion, the entire audience was instantly on its feet, cheering, whooping, roaring with enthusiasm. I was told there was a similar demonstration at the first concert of this pair the night before.

After intermission came Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major, op. 100, written in the Soviet Union in 1944. Very richly orchestrated, the work builds extremely complicated timbral textures from an accumulation of myriad small details, rapidly shifting tempi and enormous dynamic ranges. The performance was first-rate, I thought -- this was the first time I've heard it live. It had expansiveness and grandeur in its outer movements, breathtaking fleetness in the scherzo and a wonderfully dark character in its brooding slow movement. Here too there was enthusiastic recognition from the audience. In all, this was a very satisfying program.

Madison Music Review, November, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson




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