Last Friday evening, our city was chock full of festivities, its downtown streets teaming with bumper-to-bumper traffic headed for the Indy Jazz Fest and with out-of-town guests for the June-rescheduled U.S. Grand Prix last Sunday at the Speedway. Through this mélange, our steadfast, diehard classical keepers-of-the-faith made their way slowly to the Hilbert Circle Theatre to hear the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s 21st and final concert of the 2003-’04 season. ISO music director Mario Venzago also made his final appearance.
Beginning with Schubert’s most compact, most “Classical” of his early symphonies — No. 5 in B-flat, D.485 (written when he was 19) — Venzago successfully displayed a portent of where he wants to take his orchestra. Rapid tempos, crisp, precise string work and well-honed dynamic shading were hallmarks of his interpretive approach in the Viennese master’s first, second and fourth movements. Contrastingly, the slow movement moved with purposeful-yet-lyric repose, befitting its Andante con moto marking — as nice a Schubert Fifth as I can recall.
The appearance of guest soprano Ruth Ziesak added a dimension to this already special program. Joining Venzago and the orchestra first in Mozart’s early and famous motet, Exultate jubilate, K.165, German-born Ziesak hit her stride in the ensuing late-Schubert song, “The Shepherd on the Rock,” D.965. Originally written (uniquely) for voice, clarinet and piano, this version used an orchestration by Carl Reineke (1824-1910) and featured ISO principal clarinetist David Bellman standing up front with Ziesak. Both singer and player delivered long, singing lines that (reportedly) projected well into the upper mezzanines, while intermingling Schubertian melody and transitions with ease and dispatch. Ziesak was well enough received that Venzago brought her back for an encore: Mozart’s recitative and aria “Deh! Vieni, non tardar,” from Act 4 of his opera The Marriage of Figaro.
With the season-concluding Mozart “Jupiter” (No. 41 in C, K.551), Venzago again put his own stamp on one of the 18th century’s greatest symphonies — scarcely exceeded by any written since. And he had his players delivering all the precise playing we heard in the Schubert Fifth. But was it too much Venzago and not enough Mozart? Or — with first movement ritards previously unheard, with a very fast minuet but its “trio” section taken at “half speed,” with the second subject of the finale following a long pause, with the final fugal section introduced by an even longer wait, none of which are normally heard nor indicated in the score — did Venzago succeed in revealing the work in a new way? Yes, I believe he did, and I left savoring the “Jupiter” all the more.