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Pianist, MSO mesh in small and grand way

Joseph Kalichstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Elaine Schmidt

Understanding the differences in style born of the 90 years that separated Beethoven and Mahler is as simple as remembering that Stephen Foster and Buddy Holly also were separated by a gap of nine decades.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and music director Edo de Waart highlighted the stylistic and expressive differences between the two symphonic greats at Friday morning's concert.

The program opened with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2, a flashy piece the composer wrote to feature his own skills as both a composer and a pianist, as he set out to take Vienna by storm.

Pianist Joseph Kalichstein joined de Waart and the orchestra in a performance that captured the youth and arrogance of the young composer  /pianist as well as his extraordinary musical abilities. The pianist and conductor de Waart, longtime friends, gave a seriously simpatico performance of the piece.

Kalichstein captured the character and vast array of colors and sounds Beethoven wrote for the piano, moving from light-handed passage work to look-what-I-can-do technical displays. He delivered an introspective take on the first-movement cadenza Beethoven added years after the piece was completed.

After playing a soulful second movement, Kalichstein erupted into powerhouse delivery of the piece's explosive final movement.

De Waart and the orchestra gave a beautifully crafted, clean performance of the piece, playing in delightful hand-in-glove fashion with Kalichstein.

Mahler's enormous Symphony No. 7 filled the program's second half as de Waart and the players gave a performance of the piece that was rich in both small musical details and grand statements.

In this articulate interpretation, every voice in the orchestra was heard clearly and moved with musical purpose and direction.

Fine, tightly knit section playing from the strings and strong, controlled brass lines were part of the successful chemistry of the performance, as were striking solo lines from the principal trumpet Mark Niehaus and acting principal horn Krystof Pipal.

Also key were the crisp, cohesive transitions de Waart and the players executed as they delivered what felt like a musical guided tour of the lengthy piece.