John Frayne | Recapping the exciting fall season

John Frayne | Recapping the exciting fall season

Now that the concert halls have mostly fallen silent for the next four months, it's time to look back at selected highlights of the fall 2018 season at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana.

On Sept. 15, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, with artistic director Grant Gershon, came to the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert and performed Orlando di Lasso's "Tears of Saint Peter." The novelty of this performance was that the Chorale not only sang, but also mimed the emotions aroused by the text. The musical delights of that evening were without doubt; the balletic results raised some questions for me. This was but one of a group of performances during this past year in which singers or players were given double roles.

Another novel programming idea came up at a Sinfonia da Camera concert on Sept. 22 when Ian Hobson conducted not only the orchestra but members of the UI Women's Glee Club, with director Andrea Solya, and the Oratorio Society, with director Andrew Megill, in wordless choral passages from works by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Nathan and Julie Gunn organized "An Evening on Broadway" on Oct. 6, an event that covered not only musical classics such as Rodgers and Hammerstein but also excerpts from more recent musicals, unknown to me. Amid lusty singing, my learning curve went up pleasantly.

Surely one of the strongest musical contrasts of the season was at the Champaign-Urbana Symphony's concert on Oct. 13. Soprano Andrea Majeski was the empathic soloist in "Four Last Songs," the last masterpiece of Richard Strauss. Then came Gustav Mahler's mighty Fifth Symphony, in which the orchestra, under Alltop's expert conducting, played such wonderful sections as the famous "Adagietto," and the brass sections of the orchestra rang out in triumph at the thrilling end of this hourlong work.

I have always known that behind Bach, Vivaldi and Handel were dozens and dozens of Baroque composers beyond my radar. Well, on Oct. 25, noted violinist Daniel Hope brought his group to the Great Hall for a concert called "Air, A Baroque Journey," which included works by 16 Baroque composers, many by little-known musicians such as Andrea Falconieri, Nichola Matteis and Johann Paul von Westhoff. Played with exciting flair, many of these unknown pieces came to vivid life.

At the end of October, Lyric Theatre at Illinois offered a series of performances of Giacomo Puccini's evergreen opera "La Bohème." I caught the Sunday matinee on Oct. 28. The singing of the youthful cast brought to vivid life Puccini's paean to young love, but for me, changing 1830s Paris into 1950s Paris resulted in some oddities of staging.

The weekend of Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10 would have to be the climax of the fall season. On the 9th, Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia da Camera offered a semi-staged production of Gilbert and Sullivan's ever-delightful "Pirates of Penzance" in which Nathan Gunn was outstanding as the Pirate King, and Boyd Machus was delightful as Major General Stanley.

On the 10th, world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Rohan de Silva came to the Great Hall and delighted a capacity audience. On the first part of the program, Perlman displayed his greatness and seriousness as a classical musician, and in the second half, he did his comedy routine of deciding what fiendishly encore piece he would dazzle us with. The apex of virtuosity was for me reached in Henryk Wieniawski's "Caprice in A Minor."

The Eroica Trio came to the Great Hall on Nov. 13 for a scintillating evening of chamber music. Contrasting trios by Dimitri Shostakovich and Felix Mendelssohn were balanced by versions of Baroque standards such as J. S. Bach's "Chaconne" and Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio" (really a forgery by Remo Giazotto). As usual, trio members Erica Nickrenz, Sara Sant'Ambrogio and Sara Parker delivered a fashion as well as a musical statement.

There were predictable delights for the holiday season. At the C-U Symphony concert on Dec. 6, Stephen Alltop conducted a splendid performance of Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria, RV 589." And it will come as no surprise to anyone that Alltop did not conduct Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." The Curse of the Marauding Santa descended again!

The predictable delights of the C-U Ballet's annual "Nutcracker Ballet" were balanced by an unusual concert by the UI Oratorio Society at McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church on Dec. 11. The off-the-beaten-path works performed were the majestic "Mass for Saint Hieronymus" by Michael Haydn, the brother of the famous Josef Haydn, and Ottorino Respighi's charming "Hymn of Praise for the Birth of Our Lord." Also performed was Benjamin Britten's familiar and beloved "Ceremony of Carols." Aside from Megill, Mark Woodcock, Jon Arnold and Kristen Hedegaard conducted portions of the concert.

And with these holiday delights, the lights went out in the halls of Krannert for the winter recess.

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.edu.

Topics (2):Music, Theater
-