Every time Jun Märkl shows up on the ISO/Circle Theatre

podium, we find ourselves enjoying a special treat: savoring the best

conducting of any guest artist appearing here. With a somewhat jerky arm/baton

motion, the Munich-born conductor beats time to a farthing; his players follow

it with an nth degree of precision. Nowhere was this podium style more

evident than in the concluding work of this second in a three-concert series

dedicated to the "Cosmos," Gustav Holst's popular The Planets, Op. 32. This suite astrologically surveys the seven

solar-system planets (excepting for Pluto--discovered 14 years after the suite

was written in 1916, and now revealed as too small to rate as a planet. It's a lonely asteroid).

For the opening number, "Mars, the Bringer of War," Märkl had

his large orchestra whipped into a phantasmagoric frenzy, it rhythmically

pulsating to a stern, almost ravaging beat. Though considered a no-no, some in the

audience couldn't abide not applauding at its tumultuous end till they saw that

the hall, filled to capacity, failed to follow suit.

Evoking starkly contrasting moods, the ensuing number,

"Venus, the Bringer of Peace," languidly serene in its impressionism, has

nonetheless an insistent though quiet rhythmic pulse as Märkl brings out

different orchestral choirs with exquisite control of the dynamics.

In the following "Mercury, the winged messenger, those

woodwind/string triplet figures wander up and down the orchestral compass,

mixing with common time. "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" is the most light-veined of the

seven parts and has the suite's best known tune. And by now, Märkl, while still wielding

his baton, also had his audience in the palm of his hand.

"Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age," followed by "Uranus, the

Magician" and concluding with "Neptune the Mystic"

appear to follow the pattern (though probably not intentional) of Debussy's

three Nocturnes for Orchestra (1899). That is: "Saturn" goes with "Nuages"; "Uranus"

goes with "Fêtes"; and "Neptune" goes with "Sirènes," both the latter using a

woman's wordless chorus. The chorus's entrance in "Neptune"

begins the musical high point in

the whole work as the chant repeats a figure while fading away into silence. Throughout the

entire suite, Märkl's control was absolute.

Guest baritone Wolfgang Brendel, 67, in keeping with the cosmos theme,

sang the short aria "Ode to the Evening Star" from Wagner's opera Tannhäuser after intermission. Brendel's light, somewhat thin vocal delivery possibly made the aria

seem shorter than it actually was.

The concert began with another apropos work, Paul Hindemith's

Die Harmonie der Welt (The Harmony of the World) Symphony

(1951), written to honor the work of scientist and astronomer Johannes Kepler

(1571-1630) and cast in three movements. Here modernist construction is in full

flower with an orchestra as big as that used in The Planets. For me the most meaningful part of the entire work was in the middle

movement employing ISO principal Karen Moratz' flute solos. Otherwise the harmonies failed to

resolve sufficiently into common chords to remove the cacophony common to this

era and style. Like

Bartok, Hindemith ends his movements on a clear, tonic cadence but without any

prior indication of its arrival. Jan.

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