Always on the lookout for novelties, conductor Andrew Sewell turned up a fresh treat with the Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966), an American composer and educator of Italian background. This is a work typical of the neoclassical and back-to-baroque ventures of the mid-20th century, in that it revisits the 18th-century form in which a small ensemble (concertino) opposes a larger one (riplieno). In this case, the work is in three movements -- bustling outer ones and a very probing slow movement -- and is scored for strings. Its concertino consists of a string quartet that the principals of the violin, viola and cello sections play while seated in the orchestra. The music is skillful, interesting and quite pleasurable. It deserves more frequent hearing, and it proved a particularly welcome discovery.
The guest soloist, cellist Joshua Roman, is no stranger to Madison. He appeared previously with the UW Symphony at Mills Hall, where he made a very strong impression in Dvorák's Cello Concerto. His vehicle this time was Haydn's D-major Concerto. This one-time warhorse was long thought of as the Haydn Cello Concerto, until the discovery of the composer's earlier (and much more lively) C-major Concerto.
Roman made it go down easily. He is a very artful musician, tasteful and honest. He has a total command of his instrument, and a tone of notably sweet precision, mellow even in showy passages. He used a movement of a Bach cello suite as a deft encore. Still young, Roman is a versatile artist who should be doing important things for some time.
The final work was the last of Mozart's symphonies, the majestic No. 41 in C, K. 551, known as the "Jupiter." This music is just what Sewell handles so well, music in which the classical style can be heard bridging between Mozart's world the coming world of Beethoven. Sewell knows just how to pace and shape the score, and he honored its scope by retaining the often-cut repeats in the first and last movements. The orchestra, notably the winds, responded with confidence and full-throated sonority in a performance fully worthy of the music.
Noticeable this time, too, was the spatial opposition of first and second violins, who sat on different sides of the stage. While effective in the Giannini score, this arrangement paid off mightily in the Mozart, revealing constantly how the second violins have very distinct and important roles of their own.
Let's face it, Madison, we have a really classy orchestra and conductor in Sewell's WCO.