ISO celebrates Richard Strauss - again

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


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