The Christel DeHaan Center was filled to the brim, with extra chairs brought in for the overflow. It was, in part, a celebration of Raymond Leppard's vitality following his 85th birthday. A vitality not only to stand and lead a chamber group -- the Uindy Festival Orchestra, plus the Uindy Celebration Chorus -- for an hour and a half, but to lead them with his by now very well established standard of excellence.
Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony, Op. 4 (1934), defined this excellence as the program opener, a light-veined forecast of the soon-to-come masterworks of this most acclaimed of 20th-century British composers. Not only is its title an alliteration, but so is each of its four movements: "Boisterous Bourée," "Playful Pizzicato," "Sentimental Sarabande" and "Frolicsome Finale." Cast for 11 strings, the movements' contrasts are remarkable within a stylistic cohesiveness, the second movement containing all-plucked strings, the third a languorous melody and the finale strangely giving us a look-back at Grieg.
Harpsichordist Thomas Gerber, flutist Anne Reynolds and violinist Austin Hartman then joined Leppard and his ensemble for one of Bach's greatest treasures, his Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D, BWV 1050 -- history says the first stringed keyboard concerto and the first with a full first-movement cadenza. Leppard kept his forces together remarkably for the nimble tempo he gave the first movement. Reynolds, who is the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra's principal flutist, Hartman and Gerber, the latter two Uindy faculty members, nicely coalesced their trio parts, having the slow movement all to themselves. My only caveat was that the rubati (tempo variations) and outright pauses Gerber inserted into the first-movement cadenza were uncalled for and unnecessary, given Leppard's otherwise unyielding propulsion.
After the break, Uindy music professor Paul Krasnovsky chatted with Leppard, both seated on arm-chairs brought on stage. Krasnovsky asked Leppard which stage in his life he found the most rewarding. Leppard quickly responded, "right now." That he's savored all the events in his life may partially explain why he remains so vital.
The chorus joined the group in Schubert's first of six settings he wrote for the Latin Ordinary, his Mass in G, D. 167, composed when he was only 18. Already a composer prodigy, he completed it in six days. Yet it hints of the mature Schubertian melody, within a short, light-veined setting, lasting scarcely half an hour. Vocal soloists Kathleen Hacker, soprano; Daniel Blosser, tenor; and Thomas Scurich, baritone joined the chorus and strings. Through the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, Leppard kept a firm grasp on all his forces--as he has done with all his podium endeavors as an Indy resident since 1987. Sept. 17; Uindy's Christel DeHaan Center.