Arts » Classical Music

Review: Mozart dazzles; Shostakovich baffles

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ISO guest conductor Leo Hussain
  • ISO guest conductor Leo Hussain

Friday's concert at the Hilbert Circle Theatre - part of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Symphonic Hits series - featured one "symphonic hit," a quite agreeable non-hit and a complete "symphonic miss." Gratefully, the hit was saved till last: Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, helmed by yet another Brit guest conductor, Leo Hussain. The suite from Prokofiev's movie music to Lieutenant Kijé, Op. 60 (1936), opening the program, was the enjoyable non-hit.

Between those two, we heard, in the ISO's first performance ever, soloist Vadim Gluzman in the least satisfying of Shostakovich's concerted works (those for soloist[s] and orchestra), his Violin Concerto No. 2 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 129 (1967).

Any January weekend carries the potential threat of snowy/icy weather, so if one wishes to maximize your potential draw, one should program a plethora of "hits" for a series so titled. Still, the Mozart was worth the wait - 25 minutes of one of the few great 18th-century symphonies, taut, dramatic and filled with the beauties under a contrapuntal labyrinth which only a mature Mozart could provide. While Hussain gave us a smoothly energetic, well shaped first movement, he made his players more articulate in the ensuing, triple-meter (three beats to a measure) Andante.

He then picked a notably faster tempo than usual for the fiery, G minor Minuet, while reducing the pace for its contrasting, centerpiece, G-major "trio" section. All these approaches worked to reveal the symphony's greatness from an era in which scores were minimally marked; we don't know how the composer heard it in his head. It remains to observe that Mozart's decision to revise K. 550, adding clarinets to the flute, oboes and bassoons of his original wind complement, allowed ISO principal clarinetist David Bellman to highlight his instrument beautifully in the Finale's second subject.

Prokofiev's five-part concert adaptation of his first attempt at scoring film music has proven one of his most popular successes, its faux militarism handled in an engagingly tonal, tuneful manner - especially "Troika" (Sleigh Ride), one of the composer's most famous excerpts of his career. Regrettably, some of the solo work misfired the first time around in Friday's Lt. Kijé, but was corrected in its repeat. Otherwise, Hussain's orchestra managed the score with unexceptional lyric clarity.

Shostakovich had only eight years to live after completing his second and final violin concerto. Although contributing lots of flash and dash in the solo violin part, well realized by Gluzman, the Soviet composer seemed to be "resting" before his final push toward his late-style 14th and 15th symphonies to come.

As a result, this work comes across as the composer imitating his earlier self - with inferior inspiration yet. All the mannerisms are there but without anything much for the listener to cling to. Gluzman's penetrating tone was dominant throughout, often enough to cover the strings in back of him.

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