Review: ISO performs Ravel and Strauss 

***1/2
click to enlarge Guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya
  • Guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya

Friday's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra program saw a drop in attendance from the average so far this season.  But that average has been higher than in previous seasons, and we had neither music director Krzysztof Urbański to conduct nor a big display piece, either of which seems needed to draw them in.  Our guest conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya (47, from Peru), led the orchestra in two repertoire works of Ravel and Strauss while soprano Twyla Robinson sang five early songs of Strauss and the short song cycle Shéhérazade by Ravel.

Harth-Bedoya opened with Ravel's well known Rapsodie Espagnole, completed in 1908, the same year as Debussy's Iberia, the stronger of the two works in evoking the essence of Spain (let's schedule it).  The Rapsodie is cast into four parts: "Prélude à la nuit," "Malagueña," "Habañera" and "Feria"--with a very short pause between each.  Starting with the strings intoning a soft, descending line, the piece remains very soft through its early parts, with loud interjections increasing in frequency, such that "Feria" ends on a thunderous climax.

Harth-Bedoya had his players in good control throughout the four parts, especially handling the climaxes well.  He took "Malagueña" at a nimble pace while cutting the tempo considerably for "Habañera"--more either way than I'm used to, but nonetheless it worked.  He began "Feria" with his players displaying excellent precision, but a bit less so toward the climactic end.

click to enlarge Soprano Twyla Robinson
  • Soprano Twyla Robinson

Twyla Robinson, a 1993 graduate of Centenary College of Louisiana, though widely acclaimed, failed to deliver in her appearance here.  She sang five songs from Richard Strauss's Op. 10 (1882) and Op. 27 (1894) series.  Lasting about ten minutes, they lack the profundity of his famous Four Last Songs of 1948.  Following intermission Robinson returned to sing Ravel's ten-minute, three-song cycle Shéhérazade.  Throughout her singing, Robinson displayed a very wide, very rapid vibrato.  It was especially unsettling to hear her in Ravel's second song "La Flûte Enchantée," wherein ISO principal flutist Karen Moratz made beautiful sounds against Robinson's wobbling intonation.

Isn't Strauss's Suite to his opera Der Rosenkavalier (1911) just another Don Juan with waltzes thrown in?   Conductor Artur Rodziński probably wouldn't agree, as he fashioned the Suite with the composer's approval in 1944. Yet there are similarities between Strauss's first tone-poem masterpiece (1889) and the Suite -- as well as differences.  Don Juan is masterfully knit together; it's all of a piece while the suite has its parts strung together, capturing Strauss's Viennese waltzes (by the way, Richard Strauss was German and had no relation to the Viennese waltz kings, Johann and Johann Jr.).  The last part of the Suite contains the Trio music, the most beautiful part of the opera and which ends it.  But Rodziński tacked on another waltz to give the piece a final hurrah.

With careful control of dynamics, excellent solo work -- especially the trumpet-- and an agreeable pace, Harth-Bedoya made the Suite a rousing finish to the concert.  Feb. 20; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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