The Middleton Community Orchestra finished its 2011-2012 season with a Wednesday night concert before a quite respectable audience in the ample auditorium of the town's performing arts center.
The program, as usual, was ambitious. To be sure, the opener was something of a throwaway. The 19th-century Viennese operetta composer Franz von Suppé wrote many delightful overtures that linger in the repertoire, but the overture to Jolly Robbers is not really among the prime examples. And the orchestra had some trouble tightening its ensemble in the slow beginnings, though it rallied for the fast finish.
But the serious business of the program was embodied in two very substantial works.
One was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major. This is a remarkably melodious score, even for Mozart, with particularly rich writing for the winds. The soloist for this was splendidly suitable for it. Thomas Kasdorf, a UW Music School product, has had, in his varied experience so far, extensive involvement in playing chamber music, and that showed.
Quite avoiding the temptations to virtuosic display and showy overstatement, he treated his assignment with a gentle delicacy, even fragility, that brought intimacy to the wing movements, and a particular poetry to the dreamy slow movement. There Kasdorf's exchanges with the woodwinds (playing beautifully) reminded me of much of Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds. Mozart composed the concertos of this vintage as display vehicles for himself in his Vienna concerts, and one could hear in this one, perhaps more than in any of the others, how very personal a piece it must have been for him.
Moving on without an intermission, we were treated to no less a masterpiece than the Fourth Symphony of Brahms. This is a large-scaled, burly work that one usually hears played by a large orchestra. And, indeed, it is in the Madison Symphony Orchestra's repertoire for next season. But Brahms himself was less worried about volume and numbers than about quality of playing. He particularly delighted in working with Hans von Bülow's Meiningen Court Orchestra, which premiered this score with only 50 players.
The MCO extended beyond that number only by about a dozen. They confronted a score that demands both expert playing and precise ensemble. One could certainly notice blemishes and rough spots: the brass, and particularly the horns, seemed not always tidy, for instance, but the woodwinds managed their tricky functions, and the strings brought off very well the wicked filigrees imposed on them. The opposed seating of the first and second violin sections gave proper definition to the many moments of subtle antiphony that Brahms devised for them.
The point is that these players poured into their performance a fullness of commitment and a recognizable joy in being able to have a go at this symphony. In the final judgement, they made it sound the magnificent work that it is.
Conductor Steve Kurr has fashioned his orchestra as an impressive gathering of both amateur and professional musicians who want to make music together at a high level of quality. They grow from strength to strength under his leadership. And they represent not only a credit to their namesake community, but one more blessed resource for musical life in the Madison area.