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Weilerstein, Milwaukee Symphony deliver an engaging performance

03.05.16
Joshua Weilerstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

None of us would be who we are without the people who came before us.

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein made that point with music Friday evening, using Brahms as the through-line linking three centuries of classical music. 

The evening opened with Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn," based on a chorale theme that Haydn himself may have borrowed nearly a century earlier. 

Weilerstein and the orchestra gave the piece a completely engaging performance, combining a dignified grace with wonderfully broad, fluid and unabashedly Romantic dynamic swells and ebbs.

Artfully shaped phrases, nuanced highlighting of orchestral colors and a generally affectionate, nostalgic feel were all a part of their balance of contrasting musical eras.

Weilerstein, an articulate, precise conductor, led the orchestra through a vibrant accompaniment built of delicate, running lines shimmering beneath the violin's sound, lithe dovetailing of phrases and big, dramatic statements. 

Weilerstein and MSO gave a precise, beautifully layered performance of the piece, despite a little early unevenness in the horns, and some unsettled pitch across the orchestra in the final movement. 

They moved from a colorful, character-filled first movement to a rich, relaxed take on the second movement. The ensemble brought an infectious, waltzing lilt to the opening of the third movement, making the movement's flowing melodies sing. 

Giving the final movement an artfully crafted shape, Weilerstein and the orchestra combined restraint and abandon, particularly in the delayed start of several long crescendos that allowed the ensemble sound to swell in what felt like a dramatic rush. The performance won them a standing, cheering ovation.

Read the rest of the review here