For his second weekend with the Chamber Orchestra, Edo de Waart chose music close to his heart, from Mozart to Adams.
For Twin Citians of a certain vintage, Edo de Waart is indelibly associated with the Minnesota Orchestra, which he led from 1986 to 1995.
But the peripatetic Dutch-born conductor, now music director of the Milwaukee Symphony and living near Madison, lately has pitched his tent on the other side of the river, beginning a three-season stint as an artistic partner of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. And lest anyone suppose that he's slowing down, De Waart, who turns 70 in June, takes up an appointment next year as chief conductor of Belgium's Royal Flemish Philharmonic.
De Waart's program with the SPCO this week -- the second of two consecutive weeks of concerts inaugurating their new partnership -- mixes wind music by Mozart and Strauss with John Adams' post-minimalist "Shaker Loops" for strings.
It looks suspiciously like a mini-retrospective -- a welcome revisiting of some of De Waart's greatest recorded hits. As a founding member of the still-vital Netherlands Wind Ensemble, De Waart, initially an oboist, recorded treasurable LPs of the Mozart and Strauss works early in his career. And as music director of the San Francisco Symphony, he made the first recording of "Shaker Loops," of whose composer he was an early and forceful champion. (The Dutchman's landmark recording of Adams' 1987 "Nixon in China" is being re-released next month, on the occasion of the work's Metropolitan Opera premiere.)
Mozart's E-flat Serenade -- written with "a little extra care," as the composer told his father -- is among the summits of the wind literature; its first and third movements are light years beyond the sonic wallpaper typical of the genre. Although the SPCO's musicians need no conductor to render this music expertly, their performance seemed to gain warmth and nuance from De Waart's shaping hand. Kathryn Greenbank's oboe playing in the Adagio was sublimity itself.
"Shaker Loops" (1978, rev. 1983) is perhaps the great American string-orchestra piece, and De Waart's account of it rocked. What Adams calls the "wild push-pull section" of his "Loops and Verses" movement felt more intense than ever, the "Hymning Slews" movement more ethereal.
Strauss' Suite for 13 Winds, Op. 4, is hardly more than a student work. Yet at moments, especially in the Romanze, one gets a whiff of the composer's mature style. On Friday even the final movement, with its academic fugue, sounded rather grand.
Larry Fuchsberg writes frequently about music.