Review: Heras-Casado with the ISO

Ingrid Fliter plays a riveting Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2.

4 stars

ISO Classical Series Program No. 11; Hilbert Circle Theatre; March 4-5.

Though Pablo Heras-Casado is only 33,

his appearance at last weekend’s Indianapolis Symphony

Orchestra program showed a marvelous maturity in directing our

80-plus players. Still, he is some four years older than Krzysztof

Urbanski, who will make his first appearance this May as the ISO’s

music director designate. All the talented podium youth represented

by these two is a good omen for the future of the classical


A native of Granada, Spain,

Heras-Casado made the evening’s highlight, for me, his take on

La Mer (1905), one of Claude Debussy’s greatest and most

popular masterworks. Whether you choose to view the work as a perfect

evocation of the sea or simply the finest music ever written with the

sea as an allusive backdrop, it is as compelling from one measure to

the next — one phrase to the next — as most any other

great symphonic work you can name.

And Heras-Casado had the measure of its

three parts: “From Dawn to Noon on the Sea,” “Play

of the Waves” and “Dialogue of Wind and Sea.” He

had each phrase evolving — one to the next — as though

inevitable, with a lightly nuanced control of tempo, phrasing and

dynamics — played over a huge orchestra. He kept a near perfect

balance among the strings, the winds, the horns, the brass, the

percussion — and finally the two delicate harps. The orchestra

responded to their “batonless” conductor’s view of

the work with sufficient clarity as to give me a five-star


The other French work employed the

services of Argentine guest pianist Ingrid Fliter, 37, of Buenos

Aires (and clearly of German ancestry), in Saint-Saëns’

Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22. Fliter immediately showed

her excellent virtuosity in her lengthy solo opening, recalling

Jean-Yves Thibaudet from a week earlier (herein reviewed). Then the

orchestra opens with the same two chords (transposed) as begins

Mozart’s Don Giovanni — and we’re off and running.

A gladsome display work lacking

profundity, Saint-Saëns’ 2nd is nonetheless a delightful

aperitif whose second movement strongly recalls Mendelssohn’s

fairy-like writing, and is probably Saint-Saëns’ most

identifiable movement from his five piano concertos. Like so many

concerted works of the later 19th century, its orchestration is

rather thin (we hardly ever hear the winds), with the piano taking

front and center. Fliter showed absolute mastery of the keyboard

throughout. In the concluding Presto, her fingers whipsawed up and

down its compass, revealing a bit of Chopin here and there. She

deserved her standing ovation and encored us with Chopin’s

“Minute” Waltz — taking seemingly less than a


Compared with the two French works,

America was not so well represented. The program opened with John

Adams’ Lollapalooza (1995), a short piece with a skanky,

repetitive rhythm which doesn’t leave us alone. It also

dominates us with low-register trombone figures that go on and on.

But this poorly composed work’s worst feature is that the

entire string complement, visibly sawing away, is essentially

inaudible within the din of brass and percussion; they might as well

have taken a break, saving themselves for the ensuing Saint-Saëns.

After intermission we heard an early

work of Aaron Copland, Symphony No. 2 (“Short Symphony,”

1932), cast in three short, connecting movements. Containing the

skewed rhythms of the Stravinsky of that period, it lacks the

neo-classic structure and harmonic containment of the latter

composer, revealing a bit of an “enfant terrible” but

with less mastery than the early Prokofiev. After producing this

work, Copland matured and captured a well justified following.

As a final note, this concert was

eminently worthwhile for Heras-Casado, the Saint-Saëns —

and mostly because it ended with La Mer.


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