ISO programs Rachmaninoff/Shostakovich

Pianist Philippe Bianconi

For the 11th of this season's ISO classical programs, Friday

evening's Circle Theatre saw yet another full house, something becoming rather

commonplace since last September. ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański

led the orchestra in two large works: Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18 -- Rach 2 -- with

French pianist Philippe Bianconi, 55, at the keyboard and the Shostakovich Symphony

No. 10, Op. 93 (1953).

Rach 2 has been among the most popular of concertos in the

Romantic repertoire since its Moscow

world premiere in 1901. Filled with engaging melody, the work is only

outclassed in its architecture and piano virtuosity by the composer's next

concerto effort--Rach 3--written eight years later and by now equal in popularity to Rach 2.

The selection of tempos in any work is a challenge. There is no one

"right" set of them in any work's performance, the departure from which diminishing it. Rather there's an acceptable

range of interpretive pacing which works well when coupled with the right phrasing, touch,

dynamic and tempo nuances. Even given that qualification, Bianconi took parts of the

concerto too slowly, most especially the opening chord progression leading to

the opening theme, and all of the second (slow) movement. The latter movement amounted to a

dissection rather than an interpretation.

Happily, the third movement, with its "Full Moon and Empty

Arms" theme fell within the acceptable tempo range. Moreover Bianconi showed a

dazzling touch through all the movement's perorations, with nigh perfect

control over his passage, scale, chord and trill work, all of which brought

forth a standing ovation--and an encore. Announced from the stage, Bianconi

played Chopin's Mazurka in A minor, one of five mazurkas he wrote in that form and key


Shostakovich 10 is and hour long, largely brooding work that

nonetheless typifies the "victory through struggle" or "strife to triumph"

theme adopted by so many symphonists taking their departure from Beethoven's

Fifth of a century and a half earlier. Shostakovich's

more famous Fifth Symphony (1937) had adopted the same theme, with "less

brooding" and more thematic beauty.

Urbański showed a strong command of the symphony from

its soft, lower string line beginning the work to its triumphal close. Many sections

contained much solo playing from French horn to oboe to bassoon to clarinet,

all of their players squarely hitting the mark. But that combination most

characteristic of Shostakovich is the flute-piccolo duo, nicely played by ISO

principal Karen Moratz and Rebecca Price Arrensen respectively.

Urbański and Bianconi will repeat this program Sunday,

March 6 at the Carmel Center

for the performing arts/Palladium. March 4


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