"Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra: Classical Christmas
Scottish Rite Cathedral
Once again, the Scottish Rite Ballroom was well-filled with nicely coiffed music lovers for the 10th installment of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra conductor laureate Raymond Leppard’s Classical Christmas — a non-commercial counterpart to the orchestra’s month-long, money-making Yuletide Celebration show, running concurrently at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. Once again, IU’s singing group Apollo’s Voice returned, having essentially been formed for Leppard’s first CC in 1998. And for the first time since that 1998 concert, a highly acclaimed, marquee-level soprano, Elizabeth Futral, also from IU, was engaged.
Based at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, Futral has appeared and been praised everywhere, including, of course, the Met. Her light, high-centered voice easily sparkles as a coloratura. Futral first sang the three arias and a recitative comprising Bach’s Cantata No. 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! Joining her as a soloist was ISO principal trumpeter Marvin Perry. However, the aria, “Höchster, Höchster, mache deine Güte,” got sole duo support from cellist Perry Scott and organist Charles Manning.
Futral easily managed all the decorative and contrapuntal intricacies Bach requires of his singers. Yet her voice in that ballroom acoustic seemed small and a bit fragile. This music perhaps would have been better served by Sherezade Panthaki, a Baroque specialist who made a sensation with vocal pieces of this period in her appearances with Ensemble Voltaire and the Indy Baroque Orchestra two years ago. Nonetheless, Leppard, Perry, Scott and Manning, coupled with chorus and orchestra, had the exact measure — the precision and balance — of this material to maintain the high standards set in previous CC events.
In the second half, Futral redeemed herself with Max Bruch’s “The Flight into Egypt,” Op. 31 No. 1 (1869) for soprano, women’s chorus and orchestra. Here Futral’s voice opened up on sustained lines like a flower petal, revealing the full richness and resonance it possesses. She did equally well with an encore: Hugo Wolf’s “Sleeping Christ Child.” Almost needless to say, the balance of players and singers managed their parts consistently in both pieces, with Leppard overseeing their excellent music making.
Leppard opened his program with a chorale and a chorus from Bach’s Cantata No. 180, Schmück dich, o liebe Seele. The chorale was (typically) sung a cappella (without instruments) while the chorus used the full orchestra, with paired flutes contributing much to the instrumental color.
Following the break, Apollo’s Voice sang “Lullaby: My Sweet Little Baby” by English Renaissance composer William Byrd. Also done a cappella, this showed the IU group at their best. Leppard’s program ended with his own Fantasia on Old Words and Tunes for Christmas. Apollo’s Voice and the orchestra again came through, with Leppard’s creation engaging and quite accessible.