Bedazzling Beethoven

 

ISO Classical Series Program No. 18

Hilbert Circle Theatre

May 29-31

A Beethoven-Brahms concert is an automatic attention getter for symphony goers. But when you couple that with excellent conducting and outstanding pianism, attention getting becomes memorable, a word I like to use cautiously. Lawrence Renes returned once more to guest conduct the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in its final-but-two classical concerts last weekend. It ended at 10 p.m.— in perfect cadence for me to get home before that first drop of rain fell from the damaging storm that hit Indy in full fury seemingly right after I closed my garage door.

Though Renes showed us some of his best work of the many times he’s appeared here (during the ISO’s first Happy Hour concert two years ago, Indy’s own Jennie Devoe called Renes “hot”) — including a shapely, well rehearsed Brahms Fourth Symphony — it was 30-year-old guest pianist and native Croatian, Dejan Lazic, who stole the evening. I must describe his Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 as sensational — almost transcendent, in fact.

While Renes led his players through Beethoven’s long, almost self-contained first-movement intro, Lazic waited patiently — flexing his fingers over the keyboard — to pounce. But he didn’t pounce; he rolled three times up the C minor scale, not too loud, not too soft, every note in its place, every note audible. His blend with the orchestra was perfect, almost chamber-like.

Accompanying his beautiful articulation in every type of passage Beethoven offered — shaped with perfect nuance — was a display of balletic arm, hand and finger motion producing those timbres. He made the most difficult passages seem easy, the ease anticipated without his overplaying the orchestra. Lazic and Renes’ handling of the three movements, which, by the way, do not offer the composer’s best concerto writing, reawakened this oft-performed warhorse for me. Plus, Lazic inserted his own cadenza to the first movement in a Lisztian-Busoni style, which added a Romantic element to an otherwise completely Classical concerto. Like the Chinese pianist Lang Lang before him, Lazic should be re-engaged here before he becomes too expensive.

Renes opened the program with Beethoven’s dramatic Coriolanus Overture (alternatively Coriolan — I prefer the Roman ending), Op. 62. Once again, we heard articulate playing of yet another C minor work (alleged to be Beethoven’s favorite key), a concert overture depicting a Roman general who was a bad guy hundreds of years before the Caesars made the Roman republic an empire. Renes took it too slow (for me, everybody today plays it too slowly, most of all ISO conductor laureate Raymond Leppard), but his instrumental balance allowed all the ensembles to be clearly defined, making its storminess and tragically soft ending come alive.

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