To begin with, there is the three-movement suite entitled "Ibéria," the second of three "Images for Orchestra" by Debussy. Its evocations of Spanish scenes and sounds are kaleidoscopic, full of subtle and suggestive images indeed. So meaninglessly dubbed an Impressionist, a label he detested, Debussy was really the prophet of modernism in his advancement of color and rhythm over thematic development. Music director John DeMain demonstrates that point by going after every coloristic effect, every rhythmic trick, that the score offers. The MSO responds with skill and spirit, playing it to the hilt.
Then comes the guest soloist -- one truly worth hearing. Augustin Hadelich will be 28 this year, but already he is an international star, an incredible talent with awesome potential.
Avoiding any of the usual flashy showpieces, Hadelich picked Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto. I was astonished to discover that this is the only time in its history that the MSO has played the work. That Hadelich is the first soloist to bring it to us is a testament to his seriousness. This badly neglected score is a real gem of a concerto. Prokofiev is not usually thought of as a notable melodist, but he was in fact capable of wonderful lyric invention. Such is the case with the concerto's second movement, a set of free variations on a theme of melting beauty. The work in general is a serious one, with a first movement carefully constructed on classical lines, and a witty rondo finale that is full of tricky technical demands.
With sweet yet secure tone, Hadelich totally commits his artistry to the music, with his second movement an achievement of deeply moving beauty. Still with youthful qualities in so mature a musician, he seems at times to look down the strings with boyish wonder at what the instrument (a Strad) in his hands is doing.
In case there were any doubts about his virtuosity, at the Friday evening performance he offered as an encore the famous Paganini Caprice, making it sound musical as well as dazzling. Watch for it in the remaining performances. I predict that, at the end of 2012, we will look back at Hadelich as the most exciting guest soloist of the Madison's musical year.
As if all that is not enough, to conclude the program DeMain pulls out all the stops for Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony. The composer's first three are not as much appreciated as the very popular latter three, but they too are full of things to relish. No. 2 is called the "Little Russian" (in patronizing Great Russian terms, "the Ukrainian"), since a great deal of it is based on Ukrainian folk tunes. By the finale, though, the composer has worked himself up to his full sock-it-to-'em mode.
I did find the tempo for the main music of the first movement just a tad slow and earthbound (not vivo enough). Nevertheless, DeMain makes a bold show of the piece from the start, and happily leads his enthusiastic players to the roof-raising heights by the end. An exhilarating performance!
And, indeed, a splendid concert overall -- a real triple-play. Music lovers should make every effort not to miss the program's repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.