The Milwaukee Symphony Goes British

Imagine my delight when I looked at the program for the MSO’s weekend of May 26 — Music from the British Isles with conductor Christopher Warren-Green.

Just returned from a widely-praised concert in NYC’s Carnegie Hall, the MSO performed works by William Walton, Max Bruch (though German by birth, he was the conductor of the Liverpool Symphony) and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Here is the link to an audio version of the MSO’s performance in New York, via WQXR.

For the series of concerts of British music, the guest conductor was Christopher Warren-Green, who is the music director of the Charlotte, NC Symphony and the director of the London Chamber Orchestra, among many other celebrated duties, including for royal events, particularly at the royal wedding in 2011.

The Recessional piece was the first on the program of the MSO concert, the Crown Imperial Coronation March by William Walton.  Here is a link to the PBS television excerpt of the wedding processional featuring the Walton Coronation march played by the London Chamber Orchestra conducted by Christopher Warren-Green, about a minute, 20 seconds in, and continuing until the couple left Westminster Abbey.    (You can download the entire Royal Wedding Music CD from iTunes.)

Sir William Turner Walton OM (1902-1983) wrote for films and classical orchestra, opera and ballet.  According to the Wikipedia entry, “(Sir Edward) Elgar having died in 1934, the authorities turned to Walton to compose a march in the Elgarian tradition for the coronation of George VI in 1937. His Crown Imperial was an immediate success with the public, but disappointed those of Walton’s admirers who thought of him as an avant garde composer.”  All Anglophiles will recognize it immediately, very  much in the tradition of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, music meant for a glorious occasion.

Next on the program was Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 46. The soloist was Jennifer Frautschi, a rising young talent who has performed with major orchestras throughout the U.S. and Europe.  She plays a loaned 1722 Stradivarius known as the ex-Cadiz.   The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review stated, “Frautschi brought sterling techniques and a pure, focused sound to the piece, playing with tremendous depth of expression. She gave clear character and meaning to Bruch’s setting of Scottish tunes, never lapsing into caricature.”  Click here to read the entire concert review.

Max Bruch (1838-1920) spent most of his career in  his native Germany but served as director of the Liverpool Symphony from 1880-1883.  In a Munich library, he discovered some Scottish folk tunes transcribed and he used some of them, along with tunes from Robert Burns songs, for this virtuosic fantasy. 

The final selection was the Symphony #5 in D major by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).  In his pre-concert talk, Marquette University’s Jason Ladd said Vaughan Williams knew both of the other composers on the program quite well.  Max Bruch was one of his teachers and he visited with William Walton at his Italian island retreat of Ischia.

Vaighan Williams served in the ambulance corps in WWI and his experiences greatly influenced his music.  His fifth symphony was written between 1938 and 1943, but unllike some of his earlier works, it was not war-like in nature.  Instead, Ladd called it “meditative, comforting, and serene,” as if  anticipating the coming peace. 

To me, the concert was a complete delight, a little familiar music and two pieces relatively new to me, all three very satisfying, perhaps even nourishing.    Thanks Mr. Warren-Green, Ms. Frautschi, and the MSO.

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