Since the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra left Clowes Memorial Hall
Memorial Hallin 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.