In one of those quirks of series programming, we heard over this weekend two disparate concerts featuring both Mozart and Schumann: On Friday (and Saturday) the Indianapolis Symphony played a Mozart piano concerto and a Schumann overture. On Saturday (only) the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, together with Benjamin Beilman, the bronze medalist from the 2010 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, K. 219 ("Turkish"). ICO music director Kirk Trevor also led his players in Schumann's "three quarters of a symphony": the Overture, Scherzo, and Finale in E, Op. 52.
Using only two horns and two oboes with the strings, Mozart's (1756-1791) Fifth Violin Concerto (1775) is an amazingly mature work for a 19-year-old -- as are his previous two from the same year. Filled with melody in a taut structure, its E major Adagio almost reaches the sublime. Then the "Turkish" section in the final movement provides a dramatic contrast to the luscious material surrounding it. With an occasional slip here, a squeak there, and an off-pitch at another place, Beilman nonetheless captured the essence of the work's solo parts with a well controlled tone and the chops to manage the difficult figurations.
Following the Mozart, after the break, we heard a rather astonishing Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony (No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759, 1822). This was Trevor at his best, playing what I consider the two musically "densest" movements in symphonic literature: The work's great popularity belies its even greater musical value. For one thing, the dark, mysterious-yet-lyric opening melody is carried in unison by an oboe-clarinet duo. I challenge anyone to find a previously written symphonic work putting those two instruments together in that way. At the end, Trevor acknowledged oboist Pamela French and clarinetist Candice Kiser separately for their faultless playing.
That aside, the "Unfinished" clearly benefits from a reduced string complement, allowing the winds and brasses to shine forth with a different and better balanced color texture. And Trevor had his people playing with perfect balance, at the right tempo and with good precision throughout. Even better than usual we could hear, in the second movement, anticipations of Dvorak's Largo and his first-movement theme (both in the "right" keys) from his "New World" Symphony, written 71 years later!
The Schumann Overture, Scherzo, and Finale started as a symphony, but the composer thought his material better suited as a three-movement work. His refusal to call it a symphony follows from its lack of symphonic proportions. Indeed, after experiencing the Schubert, this was two or three steps down to well composed but "light veined" music. Still, Trevor gave it his best shot, and his orchestra responded in kind. But I would have preferred to hear the "Unfinished" end the program.
Trevor began the evening with another Stravinsky trifle, his Ragtime for Eleven Instruments (1918), using a piano with various sized chains intertwining with its strings to replicate the sound of a cimbalom, an instrument hard to locate. Between that piece and the ensuing Mozart, Trevor waxed on ad nauseam about the cimbalom and its piano imitation, while the chairs were being rearranged for the full string complement. Trevor is not a public speaker; silence would have sufficed during that ten-minute interval. May 17; Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts