At least four well-heralded prodigies are gracing the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s guest-soloist spot this season. This coming weekend we’ll have the much promoted violinist Hilary Hahn, 23, doing the Elgar Violin Concerto. Later this season, the even more famous Chinese piano wunderkind Lang Lang will join our new ISO music director, Mario Venzago, in the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto. A week ago Sunday, Canadian pianist Naida Cole, 24, dazzled with her idiomatic Gershwin “Rhapsody in Blue” at the orchestra’s Gala season opener. And last weekend’s first ISO Classical Series program saw the Indy debut of a Venzago favorite, the slender, diminutive, also 24-year-old Italian pianist Gianluca Cascioli, playing Schumann’s familiar masterpiece, the Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54.
Last weekend’s first ISO classical series program saw the Indy debut of a Venzago favorite, the 24-year-old Italian pianist Gianluca Cascioli.
What makes the latter performance of special interest is that there exists a 2-year-old Venzago/Cascioli/Basel Symphony Orchestra CD recording on the Novalis label of the concerto’s first movement in the form Schumann originally conceived it: as the Phantasie in A Minor (1841). Four years later, the composer made slight revisions to the Phantasie, added two movements and it became the concerto we know and love so well. A comparison of Cascioli’s work in the recording and in last Friday’s performance appears to favor the recording. The boyish-looking Italian showed a commanding technique and a far-reaching musicality, including beautifully shaped scale and passage work in both performances. His recording showed, however, a similarly appropriate legato with less of the overpedaling so evident in the performance. Cascioli rode the pedal enough to make a cascade of pearls sound more like a soft, rushing waterfall. Many individual notes got lost in the orchestral and “undampered” din. The same problem held for Cascioli’s solo encore: the Chopin Prelude in D Minor, Op. 28 No. 24, its thundering passion muted by a too-soft, overpedaled rendering. Still, this playing portends a first-rate-genius talent — someone with the potential to stand eventually with a Dame Myra Hess or a Dinu Lipatti, two of Schumann’s greatest 20th century interpreters. Cascioli’s just not quite there yet. Venzago, obviously at home with Schumann, produced some of his own best interpretive work with the orchestra — his newly acquired “player family.” This included both the concerto and the Symphony No. 2 in C, Op. 61, sometimes viewed as the black sheep among Schumann’s symphonic foursome. Using well-rehearsed dynamic and rhythmic shapings and shadings, Venzago transformed the work’s complex abstractions into myriad moments of great beauty throughout — nowhere more than in the slow movement, marked “Adagio espressivo.” There also were, however, times when Venzago’s abrupt tempo changes failed to get a fully simultaneous ensemble response, most notably in the final movement. This surely is a problem he will conquer over time. To complete the Schumann-esque theme for this opening program, Venzago began with American composer Eric Stokes’ (1930-1999) orchestral setting — and augmenting — of several Schumann piano miniatures, all under the title Prophet Bird (1992). Contemporary orchestra colors and Schumann tunes — without the latter composer’s soul — are what we got.