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Symphony review: Beethoven’s 4th for a winter night

By By William R. Wineke, Special to
Published On: Feb 10 2013 10:59:16 AM CST
Ludwig van Beethoven W.J. Mahler painting

Public domain


By this time of year, we are weary of the dreariness, the monochromatic sky, the sometimes slippery roads, the knowledge that the best of winter is behind us and the best of spring is still weeks away.

In other words, this is the time of year that we can appreciate Beethoven, whose music is not slushy, whose direction is clear and whose tunes are familiar.

At least, those of us who attend Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts may feel that way. The symphony’s February concerts end in Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 4 in B Flat Major,” a relatively short and somewhat familiar composition that requires a great deal from the orchestra but not all that much from the audience.

It was a good performance. Not only was the orchestra in top form, but director John DeMain was, too. He seemed to be in constant dialogue with each member of his orchestra, begging a sweetness here, a fortissimo there.

For those of us who spent much of the day shoveling wet snow, the thought that anyone could be gesturing so broadly throughout an almost-three-hour concert seemed daunting.

The star of the concert is cellist Ablin Gerhardt, a German who is considered one of the best musicians of our day.

And, here, I have to make a confession. I have an aversion to the cello. I’m not proud of this, but I just don’t like cello solos. Nor am I a great fan of Sergy Prokofiev – Gerhardt played Prokofiev’s “Sinfornia Concertante.” The only reason I tell you this is to explain why I have nothing to say about Gerhardt. If one doesn’t like the instrument and doesn’t like the composer, one is hardly in a position to pass judgment on how the performer plays.

What was clear, however, is that everyone else in the concert hall did like the performance. They cheered and gave Gerhardt two standing ovations. You would be better off listening them.

The concert begins with Maurice Ravel’s “Rapsodie Espagnole,” an eclectic four-movement suite that combines all sorts of dance and melodic elements but does not sound very much like “Bolero.” It was fun.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts are performed on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

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