Urbański conducts Ravel and Shostakovich 

****1/2
click to enlarge pianist Simon Trpčeski
  • pianist Simon Trpčeski

Thus far, there always seems extra excitement in the air when Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra music director Krzysztof Urbański returns to the Circle Theater. (Conducting only six concerts in this first season, his breaks have seemed few but widespread.) His ablity to command 87 musicians to make music as he sees it has become more convincing, on average, with each appearance and appears to draw larger audiences than most of the ISO's guest conductors. Friday evening added further confirmation - in yet another 20th-century program.

We'll count Ravel as 20th century, even though the evening's first offering, Ravel's Pavanne pour une infante défunte (Pavanne for a Dead Princess) saw its genesis as a piano piece before 1900. It wasn't, however, till 1910 that he orchestrated it; Pavanne then became one of his most popular works. Urbański brought out the rich study in the shifting colors and harmonies of the dominating winds and brass sections as they wove their way expertly through this seven minutes of smiling-through-tears.

Nothing more opposing to the Pavanne by the same composer could have been offered next than Ravel's Piano Concerto in G (1932). From his first standard repertoire piece to his last, Ravel also makes the concerto's two outer movements a true bravura display, inculcating some jazz elements from his friend George Gershwin (e.g. flattening the third or "mediant" tone when unexpected).

33-year-old native Macedonian Simon Trpčeski seemed made-to-order for this piece. Not only did his fingers sail through the intricately rapid passages of the first movement with aplomb, but he made the finale's headlong rush articulate, convincing - and brief. Conductor and soloist seemed of a mind, not only in these splashy movements but in the quite contrasting, rather unadorned slow movement that not only continues in a measured triple meter, but looks back, from the aging Ravel's perspective, to earlier times - and earlier slow movements.

Some would consider our conductor's final offering the program's "pièce de resistance"--Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93, the first of the Soviet composer's final six symphonies written after Joseph Stalin's death in 1953. Just after, as it turns out, since that was the year it was published, and had its world premiere. Long and dour, but with excellent employment of various solo instruments, especially the piccolo, oboe and flute, and flashy orchestral tutti, its jubilant ending in E major seems to me disconnected from most of what came before. But with Stalin out of the way, Shostakovich's creative powers - an acquired taste though they may have been - were once again unleashed.

But I have to say that Urbański convinced me he loved it - all of it, with the absolute finesse he achieved with his players throughout the four movements - and 45 minutes. But he's done that with every big work he's offered to date. May 18-19; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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