Leppard conducts 16th ISO Classical Christmas 

click to enlarge ISO conductor laureate Raymond Leppard
  • ISO conductor laureate Raymond Leppard

Having undergone surgery last summer, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's 87-year-old conductor laureate Raymond Leppard, using a cane, was also assisted to the podium by tenor Brian Stucki.  But it's safe to say that his conducting--and arranging--belied any sense of older-aged frailty.  Having launched it in 1998 at the Christel DeHaan Center (and featuring the great soprano diva Kathleen Battle), this is the 15th Classical Christmas Leppard has conducted (a scheduling conflict caused him to miss one in the early years).  And as a result he has given a select audience a taste of some of the lesser known but worthy music of the Holiday season.

This time, the hour and a half concert was dominated by Leppard arrangements and adaptations, with featured composers Max Bruch (1838-1920), Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Joachim Raff (1822-1882) and Hugo Wolf (1860-1903).   Prior to intermission we heard yet another portion of Bach's great Christmas Oratorio, a work he's sneaked, in part, into his programs in past years.  Too bad there's never been time for all of it together.

"On New Year's Day" is the fourth of the six-part oratorio; it opens and closes with the full chorus, once again featuring Jan Harrington's IU based Apollo's Voice--ten women and eleven men, singing with the high level of precision we've come to expect.  Instead of the usual festive trumpets, the French horns dominated this part, with one each of the woodwinds and a small bevy of strings.  Vocal soloists Jessica Beebe, soprano; Brian Stucki, tenor; and Samuel Spade, baritone completed the performers.  Of special interest was the "Echo Aria" wherein some words sung by Beebe were echoed offstage by Apollo soprano Evelyn Nelson.

Bruch's cantata The Flight into Egypt with a Leppard translation followed the break.  Featuring singing only by Stucki and the women's choir, the music typifies the late Romantic period--less festive, more serious. Debussy's 1915: In Time of War- A Carol for Refugees is another Leppard arrangement and an adapted text.  It frankly sounded more Romantic than what the impessionistic composer was writing at the time.

Raff's Lullaby for the Children of Christel House was adapted and arranged from the 3rd movement of the composer's Octet in C for Strings, Op. 176 and featured Beebe with the women's choir.   The concert ended with Wolf's Schlafendes Jesuskind (Sleeping Christ-Child), a short hymn with the full chorus--again with a Leppard arrangement and adaptation--the most interesting piece of the second half.

Apollo's Choir maintained its high caliber since its founding in 1998 as a Classical Christmas regular.  The vocal soloists were competant though not exceptional.  The instrumental ensemble followed Leppard's dictates to a farthing. And here's hoping our conductor laureate becomes more mobile in the coming months. Dec. 13; Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts

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