With guest violinist Henning Kraggerud, the Madison Symphony Orchestra offers music old and new, familiar and novel, in its second program of this concert season.
In his fifth appearance with the MSO, Oct. 21 at Overture Hall, the young Norwegian violinist used Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 as his vehicle. If unconventional in form, it allows for plentiful virtuosic display, which Kraggerud dispatched with perfect confidence and fine tone.
After the intermission, Kraggerud appeared as composer as well as soloist. He has created a large cycle of 24 “postludes,” plus overture and finale, for solo violin and string orchestra. They run the gamut of the key system. The full set, titled Equinox, was written in coordination with a novel about a hero who travels, so each “postlude” evokes a different setting. Thus, of the three excerpts played, one is set in Prague, one in China and one in New Orleans. Brief, easily forgettable pieces, their style is essentially conservative, and primarily designed to show off the composer as soloist.
For me, though, what the orchestra is allowed to do by itself usually provides the substantive interest, and that is certainly true in this program.
The opening work is one rarely, if ever, played by American orchestras. This is the first time the MSO has tackled it — and about time, too. Indeed, most of the music of Edward Elgar is ignored in this country, save for the popular Enigma Variations. His symphonic poem, titled alternatively In the South and Alassio, reflects impressions from a vacation stay in the town of Alassio on the Italian Riviera. He has devised a wonderfully rich and diversified sequence of interconnected episodes from the experience. They suggest the passionate spirit of the land, iareas of rustic calm, histories of war and violence, and the region’s love for song, along with a finale of thematic synthesis. At 20 minutes or more, it sounds sprawling at first, but as one gets to know its character and intentions, it become a really rich experience. I have to salute maestro John DeMain for finally bringing this splendid work to our audience.
And the final work was an utter contrast, in terms of familiarity: Beethoven’s beloved portrait of nature, his Symphony No. 6, the Pastorale. I had a few reservations about some of the tempos and pacings, but DeMain leads a handsome projection of the score’s earthy beauties.
The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. on Oct. 22, and 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 23, in Overture Hall.