Review: ISO returns to Clowes

Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili

Since the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra left Clowes

Memorial Hall

in 1984 for its "new" downtown digs at the Hilbert Circle Theatre, it has returned to its old home a number of times - once for several

spring weekends when the Circle stage was being revamped. A sporting event has

never figured into the reason for yet another ISO venue reversal. But, you'll

say, we've never hosted the Super Bowl before.

Also, on no two

successive weekends has the ISO previously programmed works by the same two composers: in this case Sergei

Prokofiev (1891-1953) and Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), both Soviet Russians.

On the Jan. 20-21 weekend, we heard the first ISO performance ever of

Shostakovich's Second Violin Concerto; this weekend (Jan. 27-28) the orchestra

gave its first performance ever of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 4 in C, Op. 112 (1947).

Why the first time, in each case? Because in a survey of

each of these major composers' works, the above two are just not popular; their

recordings are minimal. Why is that? Because the Shostakovich is uninspired and the

Prokofiev is a bit too thorny and craggy in comparison with his many popular

works. Investment in the latter work fails to pay the expected emotional

dividends. One wonders why these two would be programmed in an era of reduced


In all fairness, ISO guest conductor Rossen Milanov did an

excellent job of assembling the Prokofiev symphony's disparate parts into an

organic whole. Milanov brought out the composer's characteristic thematic style,

its parts sprinkled among an excess of modernist disruptive dissonance which he

had shied away from in his popular "Soviet" works (e.g. the Fifth Symphony).

The piccolo writing in the third movement and the duple-meter drum beat in the

Finale were among the more engaging examples of Prokofiev's pushing his


Popularity was certainly no issue in the preceding

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in

C minor, Op. 19 (1902), arguably (and competing with Tchaikovsky's No. 1, Op.

21) among the most famous of all in that genre, with its "Full Moon and Empty

Arms" theme in the last movement. 24-year-old Khatia Buniatishvili from the Republic

of Georgia gave us an

electrifyingly brilliant account of the piano part - that is,

when she could be heard.

During much of her supportive passage work in the first

movement, she was virtually inaudible beneath the orchestra; I could see her

fingers flying but heard only the strings in back of her. When I at last heard

her dominate the movement's famous second theme, I then realized her

first-class pianistic talent. She was more audible in the final two movements,

wherein her bravura passages were striking

(in more ways than one). When Buniatishvili could be heard, the orchestra came

across as rather bland in comparison - blame for which can be attributed at

least as much to the composer, who was not, in that period, an especially brilliant orchestrator.

Milanov began his concert with the short, rather superficial

Festive Overture of Shostakovich. It

begins with a raucous fanfare, and follows with a characteristic Shostakovich

rhythmic figure heard throughout his oeuvre. Some have dubbed it his "Lone

Ranger" trademark as it apes the finale from Rossini's William Tell Overture. Jan. 27-28 at Clowes Memorial Hall.


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