The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) demonstrated its capacity for highly polished and focused playing in a concert on February 20 at the Overture Center's Capitol Theater.
The WCO and Maestro Andrew Sewell presented a uniformly well-planned and fine evening, beginning with the opener by Italian-American composer Vittorio Giannini’s “Prelude and Fugue for String Orchestra.” A Neo-Romantic work, its first section was clearly modeled on Barber’s famous “Adagio for Strings,” while the Fugue, if appropriately contrapuntal in the best academic sense, at times seemed to verge on Shostakovich.
These days, audiences rarely hear any of Haydn's keyboard concertos in concert. They seem to pale beside the more ambitious effusions of Mozart and Beethoven. The Israeli-American pianist Shai Wosner offered no less than two of them. The "G-major Concerto" is quite enjoyable, if not enduringly memorable, but the "D-major" one is the most popular of these works, partly because of its final "Hungarian-Style Rondo."
Most of these Haydn concertos were clearly meant for the harpsichord. ("Clavier," their official designation merely means "keyboard.")The ministrations of the modern grand piano do not always suit them best. Still, Wosner's straightforward playing dispelled any misgivings: He played without anachronistic exaggerations, and with exemplary clarity and precision. And he deserves credit for exploring these off-the-beaten-track compositions.
Wosner has been winning particular acclaim lately for his performances of Schubert. His encore was a short, late piece by Schubert called "Hungarian Melody." Wosner caressed his instrument with the most tender and subtle nuancing, demonstrating his integrity in distinguishing between the very different stylistic worlds of Haydn and Schubert. This was a standout case of a concert encore presented with delicacy and truly moving beauty.
Schubert's "Symphony No. 2," which he wrote at at age 18, shows the composer mastering the orchestral idiom of Haydn while adding his own very personal lyricism and vitality. Sewell, with his strong affinity for the symphonies of Haydn, was the ideal conductor to demonstrate just how much the young Schubert learned from his great Austrian model. The magical second movement, a theme with variations, is vintage Schubert. Sewell and the orchestra delivered it lovingly, giving particularly energetic treatment to the fast movements. What a relief after so many sloggings through the "Unfinished Symphony"!