Cellist Amit Peled plays on an 18th-century instrument that once belonged to the great Pablo Casals. Whether it is the instrument’s power, or its inspiration, Peled’s playing is stunning. The soloist’s work paired with the excellent ensemble work of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) in a March 20 concert at the Overture Center.
The WCO string section again showed off its admirable sheen and precision in the first item, a four-movement “Suite for String Orchestra” by Frank Bridge, who is better remembered today as the teacher and mentor of Benjamin Britten. This score, composed in 1909, five years before Britten’s birth, provides early evidence of the string expertise that Bridge would pass on to his pupil. Although not quite memorable, the suite is an agreeable Edwardian novelty.
The audience’s excitement ramped up with the soloist’s arrival. Though the Israeli-American Amit Peled is not a household name, and has yet to build a great reputation through recordings, he revealed himself as a musician of tremendous future promise.
As his vehicle, Peled boldly chose a work rarely given its due: the “Cello Concerto in A Minor” by Robert Schumann. This is a work from the composer’s final, troubled years, and is too often shrugged off as inferior. But Peled made a powerful and eloquent case for it, creating a big sound, but a richly songful one, even in florid passages. Peled may not yet be considered the heir of Casals, but he clearly knows how to make wonderful music on the master’s instrument.
The encores came, in effect, after the intermission. First, the WCO tackled the Casals arrangement of the Catalan “Song of the Birds,” a signature piece, and then a Tarantella by the 19th-century cello master, David Popper.
Maestro Andrew Sewell continued to demonstrate his understanding of late-18th-century symphonic works by conducting, without a score, Mozart’s famous “G-minor Symphony No. 40.” It would have been fun if he had used the original version of the work, which does not include clarinets, but he made the conventional choice.
Sewell took all the repeats, stretching things out to a full 30 minutes in an interpretation of unusual force and intensity. The piece stressed the darkness of the “tragic” G-minor tonality with a remarkable propulsiveness, particularly notable in the fast-and-furious finale. Even the gentle, slow movement was given unsettling ambiguity. With this interpretation, Sewell made clear how much this score, and the subsequent “Jupiter” Symphony, laid the foundations for Beethoven.