Friday night’s performance by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at the Bradley Symphony Center was like stepping back in time.
Playing under the baton of music director Ken-David Masur and joined by pianist Aaron Diehl, the orchestra delivered the latest installment of a three-weekend music festival from the 1930s, at a time when the Old Palace cinema had just opened.
The American Music Night’s fare included pieces from well-known figures such as George Gershwin and Charles Ives as well as gems from Florence Price and William Grant Still.
Brilliantly programmed, the concert featured five quintessentially American tracks that were each distinctly different in sound.
The grand finale of the concert was Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody for piano and orchestra. A pastiche of music he wrote for the 1930 film “Delicious” but was left on the floor of the editing room, the track is melodious, catchy, engaging and fun to hear, just like his brother, the most famous Rhapsody in Blue.
Diehl gave an energetic performance, playing with a wide range of colors, sounds and moods, along with a fluid ease and musical freedom that made much of it sound like inspired improvisation.
Diehl also joined the orchestra for Price’s delightful Piano Concerto in D minor. The moving concerto is constructed of beautiful melodic lines, elegant jazz-inspired harmonies, and articulate dialogue between sections of the orchestra and between players and piano. Diehl’s deeply expressive playing and some beautiful oboe solos delivered by MSO Deputy Principal Oboist Kevin Pearl were among the highlights.
Still’s exquisite “Out of the Silence” brought Diehl to the stage for the third time, making the piece sound like an orchestral art song. Its lyrical, colorful and beautifully formed phrases were artfully backed by Masur and the players, including sparkling solo flute lines played by MSO Principal Flutist Sonora Slocum.
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Ives’ “Three Places in New England” opened the concert with three vivid vignettes of American life. Ives was a masterful orchestrator, a fact that Masur and the orchestra brought to life in a beautifully textured and nuanced performance.
Masur and the musicians opened the second half of the concert with a rendition of Barber’s Symphony No. 1, consisting of four movements played without pause, which absolutely shone in the resonant acoustics and matched to the orchestra of the new hall. From delicate, introspective lines to grand crescendos, the sound of the orchestra and the sounds of individual musicians and sections were present, clear, balanced and musically articulate.
This MSO will repeat the program at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at 212 W. Wisconsin Ave.
For more ticket information, visit www.mso.org or call the MSO box office at 414-291-7605.