Last weekend at Overture Hall, Arild Remmereit's second visit to the Madison Symphony Orchestra's podium partnered him with young California violinist Jennifer Frautschi as guest soloist. Her choice of vehicle was an unusual one: Glazunov's "Concerto in A minor," a somewhat marginal work in the violin repertoire. With a conventional three-movement structure compressed into a 20-minute entity, it reminds me of those old automobiles turned by giant car-crushers into a densely compacted cube. Some lovely tunes appear along the way, but leave rather little lasting impression. Still, Frautschi played it with intense commitment and with a skill quite equal to the sometimes formidable technical demands of the solo part.
But it was Remmereit's work that commanded the concert. He opened with seven of the eight movements (in rescrambled order) from the two popular concert suites Grieg assembled from his incidental score for Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Obviously this Norwegian-born conductor has such music in his blood, and he led a sensitive performance, ranging from delicacy to bold volume. Using a graceful, somewhat idiosyncratic visual style of conducting, he indicated both dynamic inflections and individual cues with equal efficiency. He conducted the Grieg from memory, without a score.
Dvorák's nine symphonies span his career and mark his growth. Some earlier ones have more merit than their concert neglect would suggest and, of course, the Ninth (that ol' "New World") has unfairly overshadowed them all in audience popularity, at least in our country. Still, the last three do have their champions, and the "Symphony No. 7 in D minor" is often recognized as his most impressive. As nicely explicated by Michael Allsen's always-splendid program notes, it is certainly Dvorák's most deliberately "Brahmsian" symphony, written almost as a tribute to (and emulation of) the Czech master's senior colleague and generous supporter. But the Seventh is hardly mere imitation - like Stravinsky's attempts to sound like, say, Tchaikovsky or Mozart. It is Dvorák at his personal best: matching Brahms' craftsmanship with his own Slavic temperament and his typical flood of brilliant ideas, whose quantity and fluency Brahms himself often admired.
Remmereit gave this magnificent work a thrilling performance, the kind one dreams of hearing at concerts but so rarely gets. The MSO responded with a passionate intensity I have rarely heard from them. A performance that will long live in my memory!