How wonderful to approach this new season with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra thankfully freed of the labor disputes that disrupted the last one. Friday night at Overture Center's Capitol Theater, there was a palpable mood of festivity as the reinvigorated ensemble offered its first concert of the season, and with a nice diversity of three works: a delicious novelty, a beloved warhorse and a valedictory masterpiece.
The warhorse was Mendelssohn's popular violin concerto in E minor, and that, accordingly, involved the guest soloist. This was young Augustin Hadelich, Italian-born of German parentage, and a Juilliard School graduate. He is clearly a gifted musician, well launched into what should be a brilliant future. His tone is neat and compact, yet sweet, with superlative technical command, within dedicated artistry.
For all its melodic beauty and optimistic spirit, Mendelssohn's concerto demands a lot of the soloist, and Hadelich delivered. In total control through the first movement, he imbued its central cadenza with artfully flexible freedom. He showed fine melodic feeling in the second movement, and ripped through the third with unusually zippy dispatch. Having wowed the audience, he gave a perfectly secure rendition of Paganini's fiendishly difficult Caprice No. 17 as his encore.
But the bookends to the concerto were of no less interest. Music director Andrew Sewell returned to Ottorino Respighi, not for the gargantuan writing of the famous Roman trilogy, but for that other side of the composer's productivity, his delight in recasting music of earlier centuries and styles in modernized dress. Thus his "Ancient Airs and Dances" suites, his "The Birds", his "Gregorian Concerto", and this program's opener, the "Trittito Botticelliano" or "Three Botticelli Pictures". Framed by his evocations of the painter's "Spring" and "The Birth of Venus" is "The Adoration of the Magi," a tender picture of the Three Kings and the Holy Family amid an exotic Middle Eastern night-time scene. Maestro Sewell obviously responds devotedly to this surprisingly intimate music, and its delicate scoring is ideal for the WCO, whose winds played marvelously.
And, finally, we had Mozart's last symphony, No. 41, the so-called "Jupiter" in C major. The greater strength of the winds against the smallish string band avoided the imbalance that larger orchestras generate and thus gave extra power to this stately yet profound music. Its expansive scope was furthered by honoring the often-ignored repeats, extending the work to a noble 33 minutes of grandeur.
A splendid opening to a promising season!