ISO celebrates Richard Strauss - again 

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click to enlarge Violinist Stefan Jackiw
  • Violinist Stefan Jackiw

After being electrified with Strauss's monstrous, virtually unperformed tone poem An Alpine Symphony the previous weekend, Friday's medium-large audience (with more younger people than usual) got to savor two of the composer's repertoire pieces. Krzysztof Urbański opened with Don Juan, Op. 20 (1889), Strauss's one tone poem where his musical elements outshine his programmatic ones. Filled with heroic/love music, the 18-minute work's scintillating orchestration ushered in music's post-Romantic era and set a standard in musical inspiration for that period which even Strauss had difficulty maintaining.

Except for one early entrance at the climax of the first love theme, Urbański had his forces well in tow, giving us one of the best Don Juans I can recall. The unison horns were perfect in stating their big theme and its reprise near the end. And ISO principal Jennifer Christian gave us all the shadings required of the oboe's extended love theme about halfway through the work.

With Strauss forming the program's bookends, Urbański closed with Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28 (1895). The music apes the behavior of a 13th-century rogue ("Eulenspiegel" means "Owl's mirror"), who upsets apple carts, mocks priests, flirts with women, and leads a generally scandalous life, resulting in his ultimate capture, sentencing and execution.

Once again our music director had the measure of this orchestral challenge, with the strings, the winds, the horns, the brass and the percussion all meeting on a common ground. The addition of the bass drum to this work was noteworthy, in that its location halfway upstage on the far right side enabled more deep resonance into the hall than is usual for the Circle stage. Till's death sentence was therefore "throbbing."

Guest violinist Stefan Jackiw was featured in the program's two middle works, Beethoven's light-veined Romance in F for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 50 and Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, K. 219 ("Turkish"). For both of these the orchestra shrank down to half the size of the Strauss offerings, the Mozart using only two oboes and two horns with its strings.

Written in 1775 when he was only 19, Mozart's last three of his five violin concertos from that year are full masterworks, giving us strong hints of the great Mozart to come. Especially No. 5 with its serenely moving Adagio; it showed Jackiw at his best, delivering a well controlled singing tone. The two outer movements were less successful with racing tempos, causing our 28-year-old soloist to glide past notes that should have been heard, especially in the last movement's "Turkish" section. A much-more-common slower tempo would have benefited Jackiw's solo work.

As for the Beethoven Romance, it was "fine." Feb. 7-8 Hilbert Circle Theatre

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