Review: ICO with harpist Jana Boušková 

***1/2
click to enlarge Jana Boušková
  • Jana Boušková

Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Indiana History Center; Oct. 29

The Indiana History Center's Basile Theater was full and firmly packed for the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra's second in its Masterworks concert series, with many harpists from the IU Jacobs School of Music and the ISO's own harpist Diane Evans reportedly in attendance. They were present to hear one of the world's most celebrated artists on that "celestial" stringed instrument dating back to Biblical times, Jana Boušková, now considered one of the Czech Republic's ten most distinguished women.

As usual, longtime ICO music director Kirk Trevor led his orchestra, highlighting the soloist in the first two offerings: Saint-Saëns' Morceau de Concert for Harp and Orchestra, Op. 154 (1918) and Alberto Ginastera's Concerto for Harp, Op. 25 (1956). Boušková's large, shiny, gilt-laden instrument virtually dominated the stage, affording as much instrumental beauty as conveying its player's mellifluously plucked tones.

Camille Saint-Saëns lived a very long life (1835-1921), was a child prodigy, a polymath and a prolific composer all his life; yet he is known today for a mere pittance of his creative output. The Morceau de Concert is not one of them, written just three years before his death. Its three movements hearken back to the composer's well crafted Romantic style. I found it not only low on inspiration, but it failed to highlight the harp, as the ensuing Ginastera did in spades.

Being a modern work, the latter concerto afforded Boušková an opportunity to do much more than roll her arpeggios over her instrument's compass and pluck a melodic line. For one thing, she used her hands to produce a drumming effect by pounding on the harp's case. She also slid a finger up the longest string to provide an eerie, high-pitched note glide. Aside from Boušková's display work, Trevor's orchestra made prominent use of percussion, with pulsating rhythms and well honed ensemble work. The Ginastera concerto - and Jana Boušková - produced a standing ovation.

Trevor ended with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (in C Minor, Op. 67), often dubbed the most famous symphony in the world. Having rushed the repeat of the opening, four-note "fate" motif, our conductor also allowed occasional raggedness to intervene here and there, in an otherwise compelling performance. Trevor has done better, far better, in other concerts with other concluding symphonies.

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