Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Classical Series Program No. 14
Hilbert Circle Theatre
Who knew that when 33-year-old French guest conductor Stéphane Denève had been engaged for last weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra program that his selection this fall as the new Royal Scottish National Orchestra music director was to be made by our own Simon Crookall? Newly appointed ISO president and CEO as of this Jan. 1, Crookall had previously held that position with the RSNO. "I hope he forgives me for running out on him," said Crookall good naturedly of Denève at last Friday's intermission.
Guest conductor Stéphane Denève led the ISO last weekend.
In any case, Denève appears to be an up-and-coming talent with many decades ahead to bring his conducting art to whatever heights it's destined for. And he had ample opportunity to display his potential while here, in a French/Bohemian program. Helping him win the evening for the large Circle audience was Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, who joined the conductor for César Franck's Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra.
Together with his D Minor Symphony, the Symphonic Variations remains at the top of Franck's orchestral output as a popular repertoire standard. Its drooping theme projects a wistfulness, a world-weariness that's rather unique to this Belgian-turned-French composer. Showing a near faultless collaboration with Denève, Lortie is undaunted by all the pianistic perorations Franck throws at him, delivering sparkling passage and scale work, along with a sensitivity of tone and touch. All of which makes the theme's final transformation into a joyous, carefree dénouement all the more telling. Lortie occasionally overpounded some of his chord work, but that's been seemingly an endemic issue this season. (Does the fault lie, at least partially, with the Steinway Model D they've been using?)
Paul Dukas - having been born, lived and died in Paris - is, for all intents, a one-work composer. His The Sorcerer's Apprentice for orchestra, popularized through Walt Disney's 1940 animated feature Fantasia, easily holds the boards today as a concert warhorse. In 1912, 15 years following Apprentice, Dukas wrote La Péri - Fanfare & "Poème Dansé" for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet russe.
While the Fanfare is occasionally played as a concert introductory, the "Poème Dansé" is hardly ever given anywhere. As Denève noted in the pre-concert Words on Music: "not even in France." He further indicated that before this evening's preparation he had never conducted it, had never even seen the score. Given that background, this shimmering, arrhythmic, pastel bit of impressionism emerged triumphant. Like Debussy's Jeux - another "Poème Dansé" written at the same time, also for Diaghilev - La Péri deserves to be in the concert mainstream, as the young conductor and our orchestra confirmed.
Denève ended his program with a definite staple, the Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88 (1889) by Dvorak. A sunny look into Bohemia's fields and groves, the Eighth sits as a pastoral interlude between the composer's dramatic, Brahmsian Seventh Symphony from four years earlier and his most popular "New World" Symphony, composed four years later in America. With its abundance of melody, its richness of harmony and its ever-colorful instrumentation, the eighth connected from start to finish. Orchestral precision, appropriate tempos and good articulation marked Denève's reading throughout. Only the two outer movements could have generated more excitement with a bit more incorporated verve.