ISO features Stravinsky and colleagues 

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click to enlarge Guest conductor Hans Graf
  • Guest conductor Hans Graf

Six works on a symphony program mean one thing for sure: Most will be short. In Friday's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concert, the first five happened before intermission, with Igor Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Pétrouchka (1947 revision) owning the second half.

Hans Graf, one of our better past podium guests, acquitted himself less well in this second of the young composer's great ballet triptych (The Firebird [1909], Pétrouchka [1911], The Rite of Spring [1913]).

Though filled with energy and forward propulsion, together with some excellent solo work (e.g. principal flutist Karen Moratz), there were moments in a few places where the ensemble seemed almost unglued, especially among the brasses.

During the rapidly repeating timpani note connecting "The Shrovetide Fair" with "Pétrouchka's Cell," I heard an additional bar of music I don't believe Stravinsky wrote, which was quickly corrected after more timpani.

Graf's conception of the 35-minute ballet music showed that he knew what he wanted. And if he had gotten his players to follow him from start to finish, we'd have had an excellent performance. In summary, I think this very difficult, very popular orchestral work needed more rehearsal time.

The concert opened with a 4-minute Stravinsky aperitif, Scherzo à la russe, originally written for the Paul Whiteman band but scored for symphony orchestra in 1946. Its rhythmic structure apes many places in the composer's more famous chamber work, The Soldier's Tale, from 1918. It's a trifle with no start and no finish; it just stops suddenly in mid-stream. "As I was saying . . ."

Principal trumpeter Ryan Beach and principal English hornist Roger Roe next played solo and duo parts in Aaron Copland's Quiet City for string orchestra (1940). Though not among Copland's best efforts, Graf, who remained on stage and introduced each work before the break, had all parties playing together and well.

The same for Strauss's Serenade for 13 Winds in E-flat, Op. 7 (1882). An early work with a strongly Brahmsian cast, the 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 2 clarinets and 4 horns came together, performing as a true ensemble.

ISO harpist Diane Evans played equally well in the following Dances sacrée et profane for harp and string orchestra (1904) of Debussy. The composer moves his triadic intervals with lush impressionism, parts of it in waltz time, all forces following suit -- the best piece in the first half.

A third Stravinsky work ended the first half, his Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra (1921) in four parts: Marche, Valse, Polka and Galop. This is yet another trifle, with the composer's characteristic rhythmic element dominating. Once again our players stayed together.

To summarize, this program's plusses are the solosists' excellent playing and the Strauss and the Debussy, both the pieces and their performance. Its minusses are the remaining weaker works in the first half and a disappointingly executed Pétrouchka. April 3-5; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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