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Concert Review: MSO Welcomes Back Lecce-Chong With Beautiful Program
By Elaine Schmidt
April 21, 2016

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra hosted a happy homecoming Friday, with Francesco Lecce-Chong, the orchestra’s former associate conductor, taking the podium.

Lecce-Chong led a beautifully constructed program of Barber’s ‘Essay No. 1,’ Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 and, joined by pianist Natasha Paremski, Rachmaninoff’s Concert No. 3 in D minor.

Barber’s ‘Essay,’ which opened the program, effectively develops a single musical idea into a complex mix of big dramatic moments and introverted, musical sighs.

Conducting without a score, Lecce-Chong led a beautifully shaped performance of the single-movement piece. From the warm sounds of the middle and low strings with which the piece opens, he and the orchestra found the musical core of the piece’s many moods, moving easily through its frequent transitions.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 isn’t played terribly often, possibly because it doesn’t fit our image of the oppressed composer. Written as the composer’s graduation piece, the symphony is flashy, daring and full of irrepressible character and constant contrasts.

Lecce-Chong, conducting this piece without a score as well, led the orchestra through an animated, illuminating performance of the symphony.

From frequent solos within the orchestra — including some lovely lines played by principal cellist Susan Babini — to splashy, full-orchestra passages, playful bits and some gorgeous whispers, Lecce-Chong and the players gave an extremely articulate, engaging performance of the piece.

Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 filled the program’s second half with a compelling performance by Paremski and the orchestra.

Paremski combined constant musical purpose and an enormous range of timbres, colors and textures in a performance that was commanding without overstatement and deeply expressive without melodrama.

Crashing chords, velvety sounds, bits of musical whimsy and exquisitely shaped phrases were just part of her expressive vocabulary. She made it her own, moving from driving urgency to introspective depth, with dazzling-fast passages and the heartbeat of time she took at the top of some of the piece’s biggest phrases.

This was fascinating, fearless playing, supported beautifully by an expressive, tightly knit performance by Lecce-Chong and the orchestra.

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