Press Gazette: Milwaukee Symphony zesty in Russian program

Concert review
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
4 stars out of 4

By Warren Gerds

“Happy Russian composers” may seem contradictory, but that was the tone of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s concert Sunday night at Ralph Holter Auditorium of  Green Bay West High School. The concert of spirit and zest closed the 2010-2011 season for Brown County Civic Music Association.

From the opening, brilliant moments of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture” to the aural panoramas of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” at the end, the program was dominated by exuberance. Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9” playfully scampered in the opening movement. Driving rhythms grew faster and faster in later movements, with conductor Stuart Chafetz driving the frenzy. The program’s style was right down the alley for Chafetz, who likes to interact with the audience and toss hints. In the midst of a piece, he’ll strike a grand, smiling pose as if to tell the audience, “I’m having a great time, and you should, too.”  For Mikhail Glinka’s overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla,” Chafetz lept to the podium and into action. Music often swirled as it bookended passages of regal bearing.

Familiarity was the mark of selections in the second half. Included was the gliding suite from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” Reinhold Gliere’s “Russian Sailor’s Dance” was laced with such boisterous color that it was easy to envision dancers dipping to deep knee bends followed by dramatic kicks. Chafetz introduced “Capriccio Italien” with flair: “A Russian writing about Italy – It’s so good you can taste the clothing.” Indeed, Tchaikovsky got caught up in  majesty, happiness and romance.

Chafetz and the rock solid orchestra immediately received a standing ovation. Chafetz was called back twice. That brought a sweet encore, French composer Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme.” While not of Russian birth, the music is from the Russian-rooted “Dr. Zhivago” novel and movie. And beautiful.