ISO guest conductor subs for Raymond Leppard 

click to enlarge Guest conductor Ludovic Morlot
  • Guest conductor Ludovic Morlot

Only the first hour of Friday's Circle-Theatre program followed the original schedule: the annual 7:00 p.m. appearance of the Honor Orchestra of America, a confluence of the most outstanding teen-aged players from all corners of our country. After playing two works and a 20-minute break, our Indianapolis Symphony players came on stage, along with Ludovic Morlot, the Seattle Symphony music director. 

Still recovering from recent surgery, Raymond Leppard had to cancel his scheduled appearance--and his program of Mendelssohn, Sibelius and Elgar.  In its place, Morlot brought with him piano soloist Bertrand Chamayou and a program of Berlioz, Ravel and Brahms.

It was Ravel's Piano Concerto in D for Left Hand Alone which demonstrated Chamayou's talent and--for that matter, Ravel's--perhaps the latter's most notable late work.  With his right hand resting on the bench, Chamayou's left hand covered the entire keyboard, giving us two solo cadenzas, one at the beginning, the other near the end.  With clean articulation, he provided some of Ravel's most gorgeous passage work--plus a repeated rapid chord sequence with the orchestra intoning a strict duple meter. 

click to enlarge Pianist Bertrand Chamayou
  • Pianist Bertrand Chamayou

The orchestra also provided a slightly jazzy tinge resulting from Ravel's then recent exposure to George Gershwin, a style made more obvious in Ravel's ensuing, lighter-veined two-hand Concerto in G.  Regrettably elsewhere, the orchestra covered some of Chamayou's important figurations, indicating the need for better balance.

It's been just two years since the ISO's last Brahms's Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, but we know that all four Brahms symphonies are concert war horses, chestnuts, repertoire standards--which can bear repeated playing more often than those not fitting the above categories.  With some 20 years in its gestation, Brahms 1 appeared in 1876 when the composer was 43.  He claimed he "felt the tramp of Beethoven" behind him--and showed it by constructing his fourth movement in a scaled down, all-instrumental allusion to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" movement of his Ninth Symphony.

But it was craft more than inspiration which Brahms poured into all his symphonic works.  Yet his symphonic "soul" was completely present in his earlier Piano Quintet in F Minor which, if orchestrated, could, in my opinion, surpass anything from his Op. 68.  But I digress.  Morlot took us through No. 1 with the ease which portends consummate knowledge of its parts.  He managed to tease apart some of Brahms' thick orchestral textures, making their intricacies audible; he did others less well, giving us a performance better than routine, but hardly outstanding.  Roger Roe's oboe work stood out as being noteworthy.

Morlot began his program with an early, even immature work of Berlioz, his Overture to Les Francs-juges (Judges of the Secret Court, 1828).  With his penchant for extravagance, the early-Romantic French neurotic calls for lots of brass and percussion, but lacks the ability to employ them artistically.  Two tubas, three trombones, two trumpets and a bevy of horns are employed too often and too long, with the supporting strings providing weak backup material.  Morlot managed to get his players through it with a fair degree of precision, but that didn't help much. March 13; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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