Delangle is a master of color and nuance.
Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra once again demonstrated their penchant for adventurous novelty Friday evening at Overture Center's Capitol Theater. This was certainly so in their choice of a guest soloist.
Though sometimes nudged through the back door for specific coloristic touches, the saxophone has never found a really firm and enduring place in the symphony orchestra or its literature. Guest soloist Claude Delangle made a case for two forms of the instrument.
Display works commissioned years ago from two composers of established repute were the first exhibits: Heitor Villa-Lobos' three-section Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra, and the three-movement concerto for alto saxophone and strings by Alexander Glazunov. Both works involve thoroughly professional orchestral accompaniment and allow the soloist to show off extraordinary virtuosity. To be frank, however, neither piece boasts much memorable material.
A third concerted work was "Paris Eternel," a short fantasy by Philippe Portejoie. Full of quotations of familiar Parisian popular songs, it was a melodic relief but was little more than a kind of imaginary soundtrack for some stereotypical movie about Paris.
Musical substance arrived in Delangle's encore, a performance of Claude Debussy's short "Syrinx" for unaccompanied flute. In this piece, Delangle showed that the soprano saxophone can be a quite credible substitute instrument in the hands of a master of color and nuance. An amiable and charming fellow, a truly dedicated musician and the most important international champion of the saxophone since Marcel Mule, Delangle certainly justified this opportunity to prove his artistry.
The rest of the program represented another kind of novelty, the sort Sewell and his ensemble pursue so well: works of conventional classical repertoire that are too short to find a predictable place in the regular round of orchestral programs.
Opening the concert was Georges Bizet's Jeux d'Enfants ("Children's Games"), his orchestration of five movements of his suite for piano duet. This is music of honest charm, and the WCO played it with genuine relish.
The second half of the concert opened with the set of 12 Contradances that Beethoven tossed off for Vienna's dancing festivities. Formulaic but endlessly tuneful little pieces, they involve the "Eroica" theme, which Beethoven used several times, culminating in the finale of his Third Symphony.
And then, for a truly rousing conclusion, we were given Mozart's so-called "Paris Symphony," No. 31. Composed in 1778 during the composer's visit to Paris, it was designed to wow the local public, which liked dashing effects. In the flanking movements, Mozart pulled out the stops, in dazzling music that the WCO rendered with exuberance and sensitivity.
This was a good start, then, for the WCO's new year.