Four stars

Hilbert Circle Theatre; Oct. 24-25

An all-French program with a French pianist and a Hungarian conductor took over last weekend for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s No. 4 concert. Using a precise, “trademarked” baton technique, Gilbert Varga commanded his players into exemplary accounts of all five works from early to late Gallic Romanticism. He opened with the Berlioz Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, one of two overtures to that ill-fated opera — the other being the greater and world famous Roman Carnival Overture. Francis Poulenc’s sole, three-movement Piano Concerto followed, with Jean-Pillippe Collard at the keyboard. Both conductor and pianist sported identically hued shocks of gray hair when coming on stage together — presaging a “distinguished” performance, which in fact we got. Poulenc’s work bespeaks his characteristic salon-satiric manner. Then came Gabriel Fauré and his Pavane, Op. 50, a gently wistful piece with various solo instruments taking turns overriding bass pizzicati. Collard returned for Fauré’s earlier Ballade for Piano and Orchestra before the big Finale: Albert Roussel’s (1869-1937) Suite No. 2 from his two-act ballet Bacchus et Ariane, Op. 43 — with its bacchanalian conclusion. Throughout the concert, Varga inspired our orchestra as few guests recently have, making the not-quite-first-rate music shine forth. Collard’s rapid passage work in the Poulenc mostly got covered by the strings, allowing us to hear only his big chords. But he redeemed himself in the Fauré, showing an exemplary technique throughout.

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