stars – Hilbert Circle Theatre; May 7-8. If the Brahms Second is the
"symphonic hit" on this program, then the Liszt Second Piano Concerto in A is a
"concerted miss." Not the playing of it — guest pianist Marc-André
Hamelin and guest conductor Jun Märkl gave us a sizzling performance —
but the work itself is embarrassingly trite, even for Liszt. Filled with flash
and dash, it's all superficial show — quite inferior to Liszt's First
Concerto in E-flat, played here a while back. This was the Indianapolis
Symphony Orchestra's final season-program under the "Symphonic Hits" label.
Starting at 7:30 instead of 8 p.m., this forced the pre-concert, half-hour
"Sound Off" to 6:30, a bit close to supper time for many. But I digress. The
one non-symphonic hit (or non-concerted miss) began the program — a piece
I'd never previously heard: Saint-Saëns' Africa, Fantasy for Piano and
Orchestra, Op. 89 (1891). Here as well, the Hamelin-Märkl combo gave us a fleet
account of very mature, very well crafted, late Saint-Saëns — in this
case a winner and a piece deserving of more attention than the Liszt which followed
it. Hamelin's double-octave work was a marvel to hear throughout. Brahms'
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73 is as stalwart a work as the composer's three other
symphonies, all enjoying the pinnacle of Romantic craft with mixed inspiration.
Märkl, who had astonished in a previous guest appearance between Raymond
Leppard and Mario Venzago's music-director tenures, impressed a bit less this
time, but only in Brahms' final movement, which produced some rough execution
with Märkl's racing tempo. The rest was the best.