The Friday festivities preceding and
following the ISO's first concert of 2013-2014 -- all constituting the
orchestra's Opening Night Gala -- exuded a special flair. The large
yellow-and-beige bulbs festooned above the stage and scattered throughout the
lobbies like oversized Christmas ornaments, plus the hall's brand new seats
and carpeting, proclaimed, "We have recovered from last year. We are moving
onward and upward."
Adding to that sense of optimism, Krzysztof Urbański has
extended his contract as music director from four years, beginning in 2011, to
six years, ending in 2017. And to lend a special celebratory
character to this short concert, starting at an unusual 9 p.m., Urbański featured as guest soloist, Hilary Hahn. At 33,
she sits atop the pantheon of stellar violinists having visited Indy's environs
over the last generation.
And once again Hahn, a native of Lexington,
Va. who grew up in Baltimore,
confirmed her exalted stature with Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 46 (1880). A
four-movement work based on Scottish folk songs and cast in a
slow-fast-slow-fast format, the fast movements especially are filled with
Scottish-like rhythms, with the Finale indeed exuding a Scottish "burr." Still,
this was German music, harmonically conservative for its era.
Hahn wove her way throughout the piece with that ease, agility, and tonal perfection she gave us in her three
previous ISO appearances--and in her Palladium recital a year ago. She is one of
the few string players I could savor just hearing her draw her bow across a
string for a perfect vibrato. In the Bruch, however, Hahn varied her vibrato on
occasion to playing nearly "white," which seemed to work well where she
employed it. She did the same for her encore, following a thundering, standing
ovation: Bach's "Sarabande" from his D Minor Partita for solo violin. (She
announced it as "from Bruch to Bach.")
Urbański concluded with a concert favorite of
most everybody's, Brahms' Symphony No. 2
in D, Op. 73. The most genial and pastoral of Brahms'
"famous four," it is certainly equal in musical depth to his other three.
Indeed, of all composers who adorn the standard repertoire, Brahms is the most
consistently masterful in all his Classical forms: symphonies, concertos,
chamber music, etc.--while casting them in a Romantic idiom. Others who wrote
greater music also wrote much more lesser music (Bach
being excepted, of course).
Urbański's nuances in each of the four movements were
chiefly dynamic; he kept a steady tempo, with the Allegretto grazioso-marked
third movement on the fast side. But he had his players in lock step from start
to finish, with well nigh perfect balances and precise playing. Robert
Danforth's solo horn work deserves special mention. This excellence in
conducting and playing of a concert warhorse marks a good beginning for the
ISO's upcoming season. Sept. 20; Hilbert Circle Theatre