Classical Music

ISO Classical Series Program No. 6

Hilbert Circle Theatre

Nov. 5-6 Orion Weiss performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra last weekend.

It took a dashing young piano virtuoso playing a great standard of the repertoire to finally come near filling the Circle. (The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's first five classical programs this season had yielded unusually sparse attendance.) Twenty-two-year-old Ohio native Orion Weiss dazzled the large turnout with the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16, a piece so popular, so immediately communicative, that it can hardly be overplayed.

Together with ISO guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard and a well-pumped orchestra, Weiss not only displayed the brilliance of Grieg's pianistic perorations but revealed the Romantic composer's Nordic soul.

Like Chopin's piano writing, and quite unlike much of Liszt's, Edvard Grieg's most challenging keyboard constructions serve up much more than mere empty display: They are inseparably linked with those arrestingly hummable melodies pervading the work's three movements. Weiss pounded them out with ease, not so much like cascades of pearls but more resembling little ingots of steel - to offer my only c.c.c. (critic's curmudgeonly caveat).

In any case, Weiss correctly showed Grieg's Finale to be the work's center of gravity and, at the end, was even able to make audible some of his passage runs up and down the keyboard against the full orchestra's blaring out the movement's signature theme - a sometimes cited miscalculation in Grieg's scoring. Then to hear the orchestra droop the theme to a minor 7th before the final cadence is to hear George Gershwin anticipated a half century ahead of his time. The ensuing thunderous applause could hardly have been otherwise.

Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93, took the program's second half. Written in 1953 a few months after Stalin's death, the lengthy work was meant as a bitter recollection of the Soviet despot. In reality, however, the four-movement work is archetypal Shostakovich - no matter what "theme" you attach to it. Stylistically, the symphony is closest to the composer's most popular Fifth Symphony, their first movements structurally resembling one another.

Though it's hard for me to forget ISO guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth's movingly wrought account of this work several years ago, I found Dausgaard's reading to be nearly faultless. Yet it failed to stir my emotions to the level of the earlier one. All the many instrumental solos were well-played throughout, but I found the third movement - an Allegretto with extended pizzicati - to be more long-winded than I previously recalled. Still, the symphony received a strong ovation, and deserved it.

Dausgaard's program opened with yet another contemporary trifle (seemingly, we've had a spate of them) - this one lasting 10 minutes - entitled Son et lumière (Sound and Light) by American composer Steven Stucky (b. 1949). Written to evoke sound and light shows at popular tourist sites, a percussion battery without any rhythmic element dominates the piece, with occasional rumblings by instruments having actual pitches. As a species of sonic art, the piece may be fine. I attend concerts to hear music - and so, I suspect, did most of last Friday's sizeable audience.

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