Symphony review: MSO masters Mozart, Shostakovich

Review: Christmas with the MSO

If I could pick one concert that demonstrates the Madison Symphony Orchestra is the equal to any in the land, this weekend’s offerings of Mozart and Shostakovich would come to mind.

The music of Mozart, who wrote for patrons in the 18th century, and Shostakovich, who battled Stalinist forces in Russia, have about one thing in common; both are played with instruments.

That the MSO would take on a Mozart concerto and a Shostakovich symphony in one program and do a masterful job on both is a remarkable feat.

Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud, a Madison favorite who was making his third visit with the MSO, played Mozart’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 4 in D Major” before the intermission. It is a beautiful, lilting piece of music.

Kraggerud has a fascinating ability to convey the image that he is playing Bluegrass fiddle rather than classical music, all the while using sparse gestures and a quiet demeanor. It’s just that he looks like he is having fun.

The concerto, written while Mozart was a teenager, is relaxed and pleasant and, as I said above, Kraggerud is an old friend to Madison.

Shostakovich, on the other hand, is anything but pleasant and quiet. His “Symphony No. 10 in E Minor,” is a wild, raucous kind of affair, filled with anger, but, also, with conversation between the instruments. At times, it seemed that every member of the orchestra had a solo at one time or another.

The symphony goes on for the better part of an hour and just watching the violinists saw furiously at their instruments — one wondered whether they might cut right through the strings — was an exhausting process for the audience and must have been especially so for the performers and conductor John DeMain who actually did all the work.

They all performed flawlessly. But, watching them, I wondered if there are many professional athletes who could keep up a pace like that for 51 minutes non-stop.

When I saw the concert program, I wondered why the MSO put the Mozart piece first. Wouldn’t it be better to lead with Shostakovich and, then, lead people out gently with the Mozart?

It wouldn’t have worked. The Shostakovich symphony was so intense and over-powering that, had Mozart come second, Mozart would have faded into the background.

All in all, a magnificent concert.