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Review: ISO features Hough in two roles

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Composer and pianist Stephen Hough
  • Composer and pianist Stephen Hough

Perhaps no weekly (and daily for some) religious ritual has been set to music throughout the centuries more often than the Catholic Ordinary -- or Latin Mass. Guillaume de Machot's Mess de Nostre Dame, from about 1360, to Stephen Hough's Missa Mirabilis, which the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra premiered on April 6, 2012, covers the gamut, to date, of one composer using chorus, vocal soloists and/or instruments to intone the celebration dogma of Christ's Last Supper and its meaning to believers.

But Hough (51, pronounced "Huff") is a pianist par excellence, you say. That is the talent he has solely displayed for us in his numerous past ISO appearances. Who knew he was also a writer, a poet and a composer? Considering his time undertaken with extended tours as a marquee-level piano soloist, both composing and writing might be viewed as a sidelight.

Nonetheless, Hough's 20-minute mass for chorus and orchestra, with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and guest conductor Nicholas McGegan, proved a delightfully moving work, written -- as they say -- conservatively, with common chords distinctively linked. Using a somewhat modest orchestra for a contemporary work, its five standard parts - the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei - each displays a character of its own with suggested symmetry between the Kyrie and Angus Dei and reaching a peak in the central Credo. See Scott Shoger's Hough profile for interesting details surrounding the work's name - Missa Mirabilis, commissioning and composition.

It becomes almost unnecessary to add that our orchestral and choral forces did a splendid job introducing the work to about a half filled Circle Theatre. Though starting out well, whether or not this mass setting will ultimately attain a legacy value, only time will tell.

McGegan began his program with Haydn's Symphony No. 30 in C ("Alleluia"), one of the ISO's nearly countless previously unplayed symphonies of the 104 that Haydn wrote. A three-movement charmer for small forces, with only a flute, two oboes and two horns supplementing the strings, its Andante is almost a miniature flute concerto. Our ISO principal, Karen Moratz, dominated this middle movement with her lovely figurations.

Following the break, the Symphonic Choir returned with a Brahms choral work, Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates), Op. 89, which includes a full Brahmsian sized orchestra. Cast in seven stanzas, its choral writing is sometimes divided between males and females, sometimes subdivided down to select male singers, with the women alone making the greatest impression. Conducting a rather dramatic work, McGegan had his large forces mostly in sync, with Choir director Eric Stark returning for a bow, as he had done after the Hough mass.

After two rather imposing choral works, the program's conclusion, now with Hough-as-pianist, disappointed just a bit. Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25 - a work the composer ripped off in three days - shows the haste, with a light-veined collection of Mendelssohnian tunes given to the orchestra and strictly show-offy piano display work, up and down the instrument's compass as fast as Hough's fingers could carry him. Speed, notes running together and no nuance to speak of. I've heard Hough do much, much better. April 6-7; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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