Sharp and striking contrasts are presented in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s November program, premiered Friday, Nov. 11, at Overture Hall.
Rarely heard is Claude Debussy’s two-movement suite titled Printemps, or “Spring,” composed in 1887 in piano score. Debussy then put it aside until his later years, in 1912 returning to it and engaging his colleague Henri Büsser to orchestrate it. While anticipating some of the composer’s “impressionistic” qualities, it is not quite a fully mature work. Not a great score, Printemps is worth an occasional hearing, and John DeMain clearly takes it seriously.
In the solo slot, we are offered a double treat: a pair of pianistic twins, Christina and Michelle Naughton, both with early connections to Madison. Their vehicle is Mozart’s concerto in E-flat major, K. 365, for two pianos and orchestra, written for the composer and his sister to play for the sheer fun of it. The twin sisters evoke that familial spirit in a lively rendition. There are, to be sure, some touches of prettified nuance here and there, but the interactions are perfectly coordinated.
At the Friday evening concert, after the Mozart, the twins sat down at one piano for an encore, a raucous and athletic four-hand piece called “Boogie,” by the contemporary American composer Paul Schoenfield — who may be remembered as one of the commission composers for the Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial celebrations. (But when will soloists learn, or be required, to identify their encores to the audience?)
The meat of the program is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Composed in 1937 for the twentieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, it was also intended by the composer to restore his standing with Soviet authorities. It was long treated in the West as just a crass propaganda work. More recent evidence and perspective have suggested very different underlying “meanings” and ambiguities to this actually complex work.
This performance of it is the third that John DeMain has led with the MSO, so he and the orchestra understand it well. That shows in the superbly polished and committed playing by MSO members. Still, I have my reservations. I may be mistaken, but I think some of the first movement was cut. DeMain’s pacing has moved away from the sensationalist standards set by Leonard Bernstein, but I still find his tempos a tad fast, especially in the (pseudo-) triumphalist ending of the finale. This is a work that requires serious listening, and maestro DeMain allows us that.
The program will be repeated Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., Nov. 12-13.