Tine Thing Helseth
This month’s Madison Symphony Orchestra program includes a trumpet soloist playing a lightweight concerto, a superlative Beethoven piece and a rare, elephantine work from Richard Strauss.
The Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tine Thing Helseth appeared here three years ago, playing the Haydn Trumpet Concerto (1796). This time, she plays a follow-up Trumpet Concerto, composed (In 1804) by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a rival to Beethoven in his time, but weakly remembered today.
This three-movement piece has nice tunes and showy solo writing. Helseth takes it beyond mere blasting and shows her instrument can be lyrical and expressive as well as imperious. Her encore Friday evening was an arrangement of a Norwegian song.
Overshadowing Hummel from the start was Beethoven, with the remarkable overture he composed as part of his incidental music to Goethe’s play Egmont. Beethoven’s incidental scores contain wonderful music, rarely heard nowadays, but this overture is rightly popular on its own. With highly original manipulation of sonata-form, Beethoven projects remarkable dramatic force. The guest conductor, Carl St. Clair, leads a stirring realization of both the structure and power of this music.
The second half of the concert is devoted to the last and longest of Richard Strauss’s symphonic poems, Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony). It’s not a symphony in the conventional sense, instead it is a continuous sequence of 22 sections (lasting nearly an hour), describing a full day on a mountain. (Wisely, the titles Strauss gave each section were projected as supertitles in German and English.)
The work, partly autobiographical, is a journey of a spiritual and transformative progress through confrontation with both the frightening and uplifting forces of nature. Composed in 1911-15, it reflects the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche. In some ways it is a successor to Strauss’s previous Nietzsche-inspired score, Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zoroaster, 1896). In this later work, the composer’s sonic fingerprints are everywhere; sometimes one expects an outburst of wonderful Straussian melody. But there is nothing here like the memorable musical material of the earlier piece.
Instead, this is a wallow in massive sound. Some 140 musicians (including an organist) are called for. You’ve never heard such a big MSO before. Maestro St. Clair, in his fourth appearance here, has full rapport with the players, and total understanding of this Strauss work. You are unlikely to hear it live again soon.
The program is repeated Saturday, March 11 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 12 at 2:30 p.m.