Review: ISO's 'Symphonic Hits'

Guest cellist Zuill Bailey performed the program's featured work, the Dvorak Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104.

Hilbert Circle Theatre; Feb. 3-5

4.5 stars

In an era when virtually nobody is making new CD recordings,

the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra went against the grain last weekend,

recording the Thursday Coffee concert (this time unabridged) and the

Friday-Saturday evening Symphonic Hits — all the same program and all

Dvorak. Guest cellist Zuill Bailey appeared for the program's featured work,

the Dvorak Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104, occupying the second half. And,

for this "live" recording session, the ISO couldn't have secured a better

conductor than Jun Markl — a consistently top-notch ISO podium guest over

the last decade. Though the CD's label has not been officially released, it's a

published fact that Bailey is an exclusive Telarc recording artist. It also

appears that Bailey is involved in this project's funding.

With a bevy of microphones on tall stands located on an

extended stage apron, Markl began his program with In Nature's Realm, the first of three concert overtures Dvorak wrote

in 1891-'92 with the umbrella title: "Nature, Life, and Love," successively

published as Op. 91, 92 and 93. Op. 92 — Carnival — is by far the most famous, a standard

repertoire piece (often recorded) while Othello, Op. 93, is little performed. In Nature's

Realm (the only overture played, despite some confusing program

notes) is better defined by its orchestration than its musical inspiration, and

Markl got superbly precise timbres out of all the sections as they wallowed in

lush, Romantic harmonies.

Later in the 1890s decade, Dvorak wrote five symphonic

poems, also with successive opus numbers. We heard the first of them, The

Water Goblin, Op. 107, also richly

orchestrated and programmatically dealing with a gruesome beast. Aside from an

excessively repeated thematic figure defining the "Goblin," the music itself is

hardly gruesome, and appears to be searching for a means to develop some

momentum, and not quite finding it. Yet, Markl, once again, gets relevance out

of it by his skilled management of the orchestra.

Dvorak's Cello Concerto is considered the best in the genre

from the Romantic era; it is certainly the most ambitious, and, unlike the first

two works, is often performed. (For example, the great Yo Yo Ma played it here

early last season in a concert special. Interestingly, the Carnival Overture also appeared on that program.) Bailey is

another top-flight cellist, whose bowing and tonal qualities were rich, yet

properly restrained. Throughout the three movements Bailey blended well various

orchestral ensembles, notably with the harmonized horns in the slow movement,

in a blazing show of "color."

Also in the slow movement, the winds tended to cover Bailey

over an interval—the only place his passage work could not be clearly

heard. I venture to suggest, however, the subsequent CD will bring his

instrument more to the foreground, as he had his own microphone located at a

discreet distance between him and Markl.

In fact, if Friday evening was any indication, I expect this

recording to vie in overall performance parameters with any already issued CD featuring Dvorak.

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