Mark Bridges and the Middleton Community Orchestra
Middleton Community Orchestra performed its season closer at the Middleton-Cross Plains Performing Arts Center on Wednesday evening. It was another proud achievement for conductor Steve Kurr and his plucky colleagues.
Kurr's typical curiosity and initiative were reflected in the program's first work, the "Julius Caesar" Overture by Robert Schumann. This is a true rarity, and, to tell the truth, it is not a piece that sells itself readily. There are lots of dotted notes and fanfares, and all the fingerprints of the composer's unique orchestral style, but rather few ideas to carry the piece. The orchestra showed some slight strain, and the brass ensemble and balances still need some work. Still, all praise to Kurr for giving us a chance to hear this oddity.
The Cello Concerto in A minor by Camille Saint-Saëns might be called the "chain-reaction concerto." Very popular in its day, it was used as a specific model by Victor Herbert when, in his early days as a cello virtuoso, he composed his own Concerto No. 2. That, in turn, greatly impressed Antonin Dvorák when he heard its New York premiere, inspiring him to compose his own magnificent Cello Concerto. And that, then, inspired Johannes Brahms to add the instrument to his autumnal "Double" Concerto.
The Saint-Saëns work has a really fine score, deserving of more attention than it is usually accorded these days. Its minor-key storminess is really a kind of conventional posturing, an excuse for some very imaginative writing in the form of a triptych rather than a simple three-movement work. Soloist Mark Bridges tackled it with confidence, displaying a steady, fluent and sensitive tone rather than a rich or powerful one. That distinction resulted in understatement in the flanking sections. It worked best in the quieter passages, especially the delicate and elegant middle section. In all, though, it was a performance that did credit to all. Bridges and Kurr should be praised for presenting it, espescially after Kurr gave us Saint-Saëns' fine Violin Concerto No. 3 earlier in the season.
For the finale, there was a familiar workhorse, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, the famous "Pathétique." It is a more sensible choice for an orchestra like this than the more bombastic Fourth and Fifth, though I would like to hear what Kurr and company might do with the under-appreciated First. The orchestra did itself proud with the Sixth, though. To its long and highly diversified score, the players brought not only skill but real commitment and feeling, and Kurr showed a truly deep understanding of this often treacherous work. (Have you ever tried to deal with a "waltz" in 5/4 time?)
Occasional stresses or blemishes just did not matter in a performance so honest and earnest. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. And it reminds me that the most polished and efficient ensembles are not the only ones that can give us genuinely satisfying musical experiences.