The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra brought us, alas, a soloist chosen more for his crowd-pleasing than his musicality.
Ryan Anthony, a refugee from the Canadian Brass, displays great virtuosity but rather limited taste. His principal vehicle for Friday night's concert in Overture Center's Capitol Theatre was Haydn's vivacious "Trumpet Concerto." Unfortunately, Anthony chose to blare his way through this late Haydn work with smeary phrasing and blasting sound.
He did himself even less credit in his warm-up opener. Apparently one of those trumpet showmen uninterested in digging out authentic Baroque music for their instrument, Anthony was content to present a hack arrangement of a violin sonata by the often-traduced Tomaso Albinoni, blown up into a "concerto" for modern trumpet and strings.
Such a waste, and a needless importation, when the WCO has a true artist in its own first-chair trumpeter, Frank Hanson. I would love to hear him in the Haydn.
Between these eruptions, there was refreshment with Handel's Concerto Grosso in B minor, the 12th and last one in his great Op. 6 set. It was given a handsomely musical performance. I do wish Trevor Stephenson's harpsichord had been more front and center for wider audibility, though. But most interesting was music director Andrew Sewell's decision to have his string players use only the most minimal vibrato. This was not only historically apt but served to show that such anti-lush string sound could really be beautiful in its own way, notably in the gorgeous middle-movement "Aria."
We could relish the WCO's high standards of string playing in the final item, Dmitri Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony (No. 1), Op. 110a. This is, in fact, a composer-authorized adaptation, by violist and conductor Rudolf Barshai, of a string quartet, Shostakovich's No. 8, Op. 110, one of the best-known and most compelling of his works in that form. This expansion for string orchestra, made seven years after the 1960 original, loses some of the piercing bite of the quartet sound but gains in augmented power -- with even some added textural nuances through occasional employment of solo violin and cello players.
Shostakovich composed the work in a period of deep depression and disillusionment. He filled the work with quotations and personal symbolism, around the four-note motto that he derived from translating his name into solmization tones (D, E-flat, C, B), and that he used frequently through his compositions. The WCO players responded to this score with fierce commitment. Of particular interest was the use here, again, of minimal vibrato, which lent an added eeriness and pungency to the music's moods of grim despair and irony.
A work of remarkable eloquence and unnerving expressiveness. What a blessing to have the WCO to give us such a high-quality rarity!