Hilbert Circle Theatre; Nov. 21-22
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra completed its 2008 Classical Series last weekend with a mostly French program, one that saw our music director, Mario Venzago, at his best. He opened with his finest reading of Debussy’s epoch making Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1893), with Venzago’s players effectively swirling their way through this dawn of impressionism, painting a perfect picture of Mallarmé’s poem. This program of shorter pieces also included Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, which he (as was often the case) orchestrated from his piano original. Once again Venzago coalesced his players in this — one of several — Ravel Iberian portraits. Next came Ravel’s even more famous Le Tombeau de Couperin, this time harkening back to the Baroque suite, containing four dances, the final “Rigaudon” taken a bit too slowly, but otherwise right on target. Venzago concluded with a lively reading of Berlioz’ “Roman Carnival” Overture, adapted from the French Romantic’s opera Benvenuto Cellini, and perhaps his most famous orchestral piece. In keeping with our music director’s programming penchant, he presented the longest work during the first half, the Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 (1916) by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, featuring guest violinist Nicola Benedetti. A native of Scotland and of Italian heritage, Benedetti impressed with a more-than-ample — not to mention pure — tone, always winning any battle for supremacy with the orchestra.