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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 17.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Concerts on the Square 2012 kicks off with shaky sound, strong selections
Kartik Papatla showed a generally fine control of his demanding part, with the start on a strong tone.
Kartik Papatla showed a generally fine control of his demanding part, with the start on a strong tone.

With no much-wanted rain to threaten, and with excessive heat no deterrent, the first of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's Concerts on the Square for 2012 came off before a large public. A few inevitable exceptions aside, the audience was pretty well-behaved, in the area where I sat.

I was, however, again concerned about the sound system. It seems more than usually shrill this time, and the extensive miking of the woodwinds exaggerated their prominence in relation to the strings, which were made to sound scrawny. If the very overbearing miking of the soloist was understandable, it still was excessive. This kind of amplification will never do justice to normal orchestral sound, of course, but I hope the technicians are taking notes for the future.

The program's centerpiece was a performance of the first movement of Dvorak's magnificent Cello Concerto in B minor. The soloist was the latest winner of the Young Artist Concerto Competition,16-year-old Kartik Papatla, a high school sophomore from Mequon. It is, obviously, difficult to assess a player fully under these acoustic conditions. But Papatla, already an experienced musician, showed a generally fine control of his demanding part, with the start on a strong tone. Above all, one must be in awe of the young musical talent turning up amongst us.

After one of Elgar's "Bavarian Dances," maestro Andrew Sewell ventured a brave novelty, Mendelssohn's entrancing concert overture, "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage." Following intermission, he offered an even greater novelty.

Sewell is winning the prize for the too-long-delayed presentation of Anton Bruckner's symphonic scores to the Madison public. Next March 22, in the penultimate program of the regular WCO concert series, he will lead Bruckner's rarely heard Symphony in D Minor. This evening, however, he offered just the Scherzo third movement of Bruckner's Symphony No. 2 -- a work that even Bruckner fans have underestimated. Since this is an evocation of a rowdy peasant dance, I found Sewell's pacing just a bit too cautious, but all praise for his enterprise.

After the first of Dvorak's beguiling Legends for orchestra, Sewell showed more individualism in leading Johann Strauss Jr.'s Tale of the Vienna Woods waltz, in which the conductor was extremely flexible in pacing and very free with his use of rubato.

The "Hall of the Mountain King" from Grieg's music for Peer Gynt would have made a sufficient conclusion in itself, but Sewell opted for a bit of trivializing fluff as his finale. To cheaply contrived music for the recent "Lord of the Dance" show -- by a hack composer barely identified beyond "Hardiman" -- members of the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance bounced on the stage and at street platforms, with their legs, their only moving parts, barely visible to the crowds.

Oh well, the rest of the program was certainly impressive in content. There are five more concerts in the outdoor season, on the four Wednesday evenings in July, and then on August 1 a menu of English light classics.

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