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Wineke Review: Madison Symphony Orchestra, Philippe Bianconi

By William R. Wineke, Special to Channel 3000
Published On: Oct 20 2013 10:56:54 AM CDT
Bill Wineke

French pianist Philippe Bianconi has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra so often he soon might be listed as part of the core company.

He has played with the orchestra in 2001, 2003, 2010 and 2012.

This weekend he is performing Johannes Brahms “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” the composer’s second piano concerto, a 50-minute piece that provides the artist little time to rest his busy fingers.

Bianconi is a crowd favorite and the Friday night audience gave him two standing ovations, one for the concerto and one for a brief Dubussy encore.

Bianconi has a no-nonsense playing style. He sits down at the Steinway and goes to work -- and he does so for the better part of an hour. It is a magnificent performance and, if you like piano, you will be thrilled to hear it.

The concerto takes up the second half of this weekend’s program.

The first half included Benjamin Britten’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell” and Claude Debussy’s “La Mer.”

The Britten piece was commissioned in 1946 by the British Ministry of Education. The ministry wanted a documentary film to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra.

This piece has many solos and featured acts. The tuba gets a chance, as does the bassoon, the piccolo, the harp and the drums and, well, pretty much every instrument. That’s the point.

It is fun to hear. It is also pure music, not, for example, “Peter and the Wolf,” which tells a story.

The Debussy piece premiered in 1905. Though it has been played by the MSO four times previously, the last performance was in 2002.

J. Michael Allsen, who writes the program notes for the concerts, said Debussy’s work is somewhat equivalent to the work of impressionist artists of the day, and the impressionists loved to play around with water.

“La Mer” is based on an impression of three states of the sea, from dawn to noon, dancing waves, and a “dialogue of the wind and the sea,” a thunderous conclusion to a beautiful piece of music.

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