Review: Can a small orchestra do Beethoven justice?

Opera review: ‘Don Giovanni’ a treat for the senses

So the question of the day is this: Can a small orchestra do justice to a piece of music as monumental is Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”?

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra made the answer pretty clear at its April “Masterworks” concert Friday night in the Overture Center. The WCO teamed with the Festival Choir of Madison and four soloists to perform a very credible rendition of Beethoven’s 1834 masterpiece.

So now, the question is no longer can an orchestra like the WCO do credit to Beethoven’s “Ninth,” but should it? It’s a question that has come up (in my mind, at least) several times recently.

The WCO and the Festival Choir did a nice job. They sounded like a bigger orchestra and a bigger choir. At the same time, they aren’t bigger. They are smaller. That’s part of their charm.

A small orchestra playing the part of a big orchestra, however, lacks some of the richness and depth that comes from having many multiples of every part.

But quibble, quibble. I was sent to review the performance not pass judgment on whether it should have been a different performance. They did a nice job.

The soloists were soprano Michelle Areyzaga, a Chicago Opera Theater veteran, mezzo-soprano Jannie Van Eyck, a frequent soloist for the Madison Opera and the Madison Symphony Orchestra; tenor Robert Bracey, chairman of the Department of Vocal Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro; and bassist Timothy Jones. Because of the music, Jones had the most stirring role and he performed it well.

Back to quibbling — and this is a real quibble — for some inexplicable reason, the artist bios in the concert program seem to have been taken from a 2006 press release. You kind of wonder why we care what Jones’ 2006 schedule will be.

And quibble some more: In order to see over the orchestra to the Festival Choir, conductor Andrew Sewell had to stand on a double podium, one shaped a bit like a wedding cake and the audience was left to wonder whether he would fall off. A bit distracting.

Bracey also participated in the evening’s first piece, “Dies Natalis” by Gerald Finzi, a cantata dealing with the “day of birth” that is separated into five brief movements and is, essentially, a poem set to music. Nice job.