A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Nov 9, 2012
02:55 PM
Classically Speaking

Madison Symphony Offers Double Vision, Unified Sound

Madison Symphony Offers Double Vision, Unified Sound

They started out as, and will always remain, Madison’s own, but the twin pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton increasingly belong to the whole world, musically speaking. Friday night they returned to the stage of Overture Hall, joining the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos by Poulenc. It proved to be a combination of “we knew them when,” and a joyous explosion.

Dressed in complementary, but not identical, formal black dresses, the young ladies look young enough to be ready for the prom — but they play like they’re ready to open their own conservatory. In the first movement of the concerto, their facial expressions were often a playful match for the composer’s tongue-in-cheek turns of phrase, but the playing was deadly serious in its accuracy and power. After a Mozartian-tinged middle movement, the finale offered a kind of “playpen” mentality, all boisterous fun and barely controlled energy.

Conductor John DeMain had the orchestral forces on the same wavelength, and the collective collegiality between soloists and ensemble was palpable.

After the raucous audience response, Christina (she was the one with the silver hairband, seated to the audience’s left of center, if you’re curious) announced an encore of Milhaud’s “Scaramouche.” The opening section, with its rollicking Brazilian-based rhythms, sparked the audience to early applause. The ladies smiled across their Steinways as if to say “this always seems to happen,” before giving us the lyrical contrast of the work’s middle portion, and a return of the main material. The duo has just released their first cd; look for a review of it in a December “gift guide” blog in this space.

DeMain had opened the evening by once again proving that there is plenty of 20th-century music one doesn’t have to be afraid of — in fact, most of it should be played far more often. Case in point was the “The Dances of Galanta,” the 1933 work of Zoltan Kodaly. The showpiece is a quarter-hour pastiche of wistful woodwinds, throbbing strings, blazing brass, and, as befits the music of the Hungarian heartland, frequent — and irresistible — mood swings. The energy and execution of the orchestra proved a harbinger of the Poulenc to come.

The second half of the evening was given over to a pillar of the repertoire that calls more for collective stamina and unflagging vitality. Even with a couple of repeated sections given the once-over, the expansive opus lasts nearly fifty minutes. DeMain engaged us at once, however, by keenly calibrating the magisterial opening material (broad, but not dragging), with the main thrust of the first movement.

Again, while not a work that shows off the solo players, the woodwinds collectively carry much of the important work load, particularly in the first two movements, and DeMain was quick to acknowledge the entire group with a sectional bow during the audience’s deserved ovations.

Photo: Christina and Michelle Naughton; courtesy of Madison Symphony Orchestra.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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