Hilbert Circle Theatre; Feb. 4-6
Last Friday the snow fell - and fell . . . and fell. Meanwhile, tucked into a cozy-warm Circle Theatre, a vestige of the evening's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra ticket holders braved the elements to savor an excellent guest conductor leading "his" players. Gilbert Varga, with many decades under his baton, caught up the orchestra into the essence of playing with an exciting, forward thrust - starting with Mendelssohn's miraculous Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream
, Op. 21. Written at age 17, the piece is not only Mendelssohn's greatest orchestral work, but the greatest of any composer that young. Taken at a fleet pace, Varga had his strings nimbly evoke Shakespeare's fairy atmosphere - following a rough start, with the flute beginning a half-step low and horns burbling. (I assume the Saturday opening went much better.) Guest soloist Christian Tetzlaff then made his second ISO appearance with the ever popular, oft-performed Brahms' Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77. Tetzlaff either was under the "weather" or just having an off-night, giving us a notably inferior performance to that of his previous engagement. In addition to pitch problems, he tended to slip past notes that should have sounded in the virtuoso passages. The orchestra deserved the plaudits in this one. In the past, Mario Venzago proved there's more than one way to play Schumann; Varga took us back to the orthodox manner in his lively, constant-tempo reading of Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony (No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 97). He also showed us why the "Cathedral" movement (the fourth, out of five) is the most fascinating one in the composer's symphonic oeuvre.