Review: ISO players pack Palladium 

****1/2
click to enlarge Conductor Samuel Wong
  • Conductor Samuel Wong

It was called a celebration concert, but it was heartfelt warmth that the audience in the Carmel Palladium's completely filled hall expressed to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra players when they came out en masse to begin the Sunday evening concert. Both players and patrons alike stood applauding each other like long, lost relatives, both sides carrying the emotions the ISO executive board's four-week lockout has engendered within our concert-going public. At this writing, the executive board said no to the players' union's latest offer. Thus there will be no resumption of the ISO's concert schedule on Oct. 12.

Two concert favorites always make for winning enthusiasm, but especially under the present circumstances. Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto (No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73), with none other than IU's André Watts at the keyboard, and Mussorgsky/Ravel's Pictures at an Exhibition, with Samuel Wong on the podium for both clearly were just what the audience wanted to hear.

The "Emperor" was the last of five Beethoven piano concertos, and is the longest and grandest, but is exceeded in musical depth by No. 4 in G, Op. 58. In any case, Watts once again proved he had total command of the music -- if not quite all the notes -- a master musician with perfect touch and control, balancing the work's broad themes with Wong's orchestra.

As always with Watts, the tempos were perfect, his figurations a model of clarity, and his dynamics well executed. As a side note, the Palladium acoustics sounded drier than I've previously heard them (from the same seat location). Has there been a change in the sound baffling above the orchestra, or did the packed house tend to reduce the reverb?

An even larger orchestra was used for Ravel's orchestration of Modeste Mussorgsky's suite for piano solo, Pictures at an Exhibition. Around two dozen other arrangments have been made by various musicians over the late 19th and early 20th centuries of Mussorgsky's most famous piano work, but only the piano original and Ravel's orchestration remain in the standard performing repertoire.

Among its 14 parts, bound by several statements of the "Promenade" (i.e. "walking" from one "picture" to the next), the strings only showed some raggedness in part 2, "The Gnome," thereafter displaying solid precision throughout the 40-minute work. It was enjoyable hearing the bass drum resonate with a "vroom" up to the Gallery, the hall's loftiest perch--a sound never audible beyond the stage in the Circle Theatre.

With an explosive and greatly extended applause following "The Great Gate of Kiev," Wong and the ISO players offered as an encore Mikhail Glinka's sprightly overture to his opera Russlan and Ludmilla. Which again brought down the house. Oct. 7; Carmel Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts

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Tom Aldridge

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