ISO Symphonic Hits: Beethoven, Tchaikovsky 

Hilbert Circle Theatre; March 4-6.

Ludwig van Beethoven and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky are unquestionably two of the biggest stars in the classical pantheon, with most any of their symphonic works an unquestioned hit in a classical program. Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra British guest pianist Stephen Hough ("Huff") appeared once again here last weekend, adding to his goodly number of previous visits. Hough was joined by ISO guest conductor and first-timer, 30-year-old James Gaffigan of New York City. Gaffigan led off with Rossini's overture to his opera Semiramide, with its beautifully played introductory horn work and its typical Rossini flourishes throughout its remainder - one of the Italian composer's best. The conductor then followed with Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36, filled with verve and well-shaped lyricism in the slow movement, but with slightly less than that nth degree of precision. As for Hough and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 21, what can I say after the tumultuous ovation the audience gave it? The Brit bent his piano part to the greatest interpretive degree I can recall ever hearing. Exaggerated nuances of tempo and dynamics filled the three movements. He swallowed strong lead notes while pounding lesser ones. His double octave runs splattered noisily up and down the keyboard. His tempos were often near runaway. Yet, the orchestra managed to stay with him, helping the performing mélange to share with us a certain conviction. Would Tchaikovsky have liked it? Does it matter now? It was an exciting half hour. Did Hough sell it to me? I think I'll have to ponder a while . . .

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