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Venzago returns to ISO with red scarf

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Venzago thanks post concert guests for his portrait dedication
  • Venzago thanks post concert guests for his portrait dedication

Red scarfs were seen somewhat in abundance scattered among the large audience at Friday's third classical ISO concert program. The reason: It has become a Mario Venzago trademark, one the Swiss-German conductor started when he first arrived in Indy in 2002 and complained of the "cold." Chantal Incandela -- a fellow NUVO reviewer -- suggested in her blog that everybody honor Venzago's return by wearing a red scarf, and it took -- to a degree.

In any case, there is clearly a love relationship between symphony-goers and Venzago that reaches well beyond the normal level. Part of it is his conducting, but a good part of it is the persona he presents. His weekend appearance was symbolic of a victory over the former ISO management who suddenly fired him without prior warning on July 30, 2009. It showed in the hall with standing applause throughout the program; it also showed afterward at the dedication of his portrait in the Circle Wood Room, with invited scarf-wearing throngs there to share with him their adoration.

Isreali violinist Vadim Gluzman, 40, was there for the Alexander Glazunov Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82. This was bookended by Mahler's early symphonic poem, Totenfeier, and yet another Venzago trademark, Schumann's Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120.

Though completed in 1905, Glazunov's concerto bears a conservative Romantic stamp and is his most popular work. Gluzman's violin, a 1690 Strad, frankly outshone his playing of it. Its uniquely mellow timbre and its blend with the orchestra's strings was as near perfect as I've heard. Though Gluzman's technical acumen is as brilliant as just about any violinist the ISO would engage, his vibrato displayed roughness and variability, his instrument almost compensating for it. As an encore, Gluzman offered a "white" (vibratoless) but impressive account of the Prelude to Bach's unaccompanied A Minor Violin Sonata.

Totenfeier was Mahler's first solely orchestral work, and, as Venzago earlier remarked, shows more elements of Liszt and early Bruckner than the Mahler of the nine and a half symphonies, which so engage "Mahlerites." Though I found it a bit boring (I prefer "later" Mahler), it indeed displayed Venzago's masterful control over its orchestration. He conducted it as though it were a masterwork.

Venzago's Schumann (his favorite composer, along with Bruckner) comes across differently from any other conductor; yet it works. His reading of the Schumann Fourth is like Dame Myra Hess's piano reading of Schumann's Carnaval--with all the inflections: rubati (tempo changes), dynamics, shaping and honing, playing one chord as two (2nd movement), etc. Remarkably, after four years under other disciplines, the orchestra eased back into the Venzago style as though he'd never left them. Following a seemingly-never-ending standing ovation, Venzago gave us a touching encore, Sibelius's short masterpiece, Valse Triste. Oct. 31-Nov. 2; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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