Symphony review: Pianist provides operatic performance

Wineke: Paul Ryan, Tommy Thompson are disappointing

Pianist Christopher Taylor simply rocked the Madison Symphony Orchestra concert Friday evening; had he been willing, the audience would have kept him at the piano until the stagehands shut off the lights.

Taylor, who lives in Middleton and is the Paul Collins Professor of Piano Performance at the UW-Madison, played two pieces, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Clavier Concerto No. 4” and Franz Liszt’s “Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Major.”

He’s an incredible performer. He and the piano seem to merge personalities and the audience experience is closer to that of an operatic performer than a simple musician. Not just his fingers, but his whole body becomes one with the music.

So, when the score is light and somewhat frothy (Liszt can do that), Taylor and the piano seem to dance about the stage. Since a concert grand is a fairly substantial piece of wood and metal, that doesn’t happen literally, but the effect is there.

When the music turns heavy and menacing, Taylor lunges at the keyboard, his face contorted, his feet pounding the pedals so ferociously that the audience can hear them stomp the floor.

At the same time, Taylor interacts with conductor John DeMain and with the orchestra more obviously than many guest artists do.

In the Bach piece he is backed by what, essentially, is a chamber orchestra. One good thing about a symphony orchestra is that one can turn it into a chamber orchestra pretty much by leaving half the musicians out in the hall.

Taylor had the full symphony for the Liszt, however, and, in both cases, his eyes seemed to rarely look away from DeMain, even as he was doing all those operatic things I mentioned above.

Taylor may be a local musician, but he is an international talent who has performed concerts in Korea, China, Russia, Singapore, Italy and Venezuela.

Taylor took up the first half of this weekend’s concert. The second half is Anton Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 7,” a 66-minute opus the Austrian composer first performed when he was 60.

The symphony is long and, I would think, fairly difficult for the musicians. The brass and percussion sections, especially, had strenuous roles and performed them admirably.

Still, it had a Teutonic presence and, to my mind, ended up being somewhat boring. I think the audience experience would have been just as positive had DeMain just cut the first three movements. I suspect the maestro would disagree with that assessment (since he didn’t cut the first three movements) but, though the overall concert was fairly short, the symphony part seemed to drag on.