Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Classical Series Program No. 7
Hilbert Circle Theatre
Violinist Chee-Yun was the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's guest soloist last weekend.
Combining Haydn, Mozart and Shostakovich can make an excellent classical program - in this case the last one this year before the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Yuletide break - especially when the guest conductor is Hugh Wolff, and the guest soloist is violinist Chee-Yun. Born in Seoul, Korea, and currently living and teaching in Cincinnati, Chee-Yun joined Wolff in a luscious Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K.216.
Wolff, a former longtime conductor of the world-famed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, opened with Haydn's seldom played Symphony No. 89 in F. Though the work shows many elements of the mature Haydn symphonies, appearing shortly before his final great set of 12 (Nos. 93-104) written in London (1792-'95), I was frankly disappointed.
It's not that No. 89 wasn't worth playing; it decidedly was. Programmers - usually the conductors on the podium - like to explore a major composer's backwaters from a "warhorses-are-too-familiar-to-me" mindset. What they don't consider in our instance is that none of Haydn's most famous - and greatest - symphonies are even close to being sufficiently programmed.
When was the last time the ISO performed Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony, his "Clock" Symphony, his No. 102, his 88th, his 98th - all symphonic masterpieces by any measure? As a result, we end up assessing the long-lived Austrian Classical master as somehow lesser, as lighter veined, as someone to warm up with. No. 89 was very well-played, with much excellently wrought solo work. But we need to hear "great" Haydn not only for its own sake but to appreciate the profundity of his legacy - his indebtedness to the "great" Mozart, his great influence on the Beethoven-to-come.
Unlike the Haydn, Mozart's violin concertos constantly appear in the performing repertoire - all five having been written in 1775, when the composer was 19. In terms of both lyric intensity and density, his final three reach an inimitable summit in solo-violin concerto writing - nothing like them having appeared prior, nor since.
Using beautifully subtle control of dynamics in her bowing, Chee-Yun provided an exceptionally lyric curve in her playing of No. 3, most notably in the profound Adagio movement. Wolff and his reduced orchestral complement gave us a crisp, articulate, incisive reading strongly reminiscent of his former work with the St. Paul group. This was a Mozart to remember.
Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 (1925) may be the most famous "first" symphony ever written by a student as part of a final university exam. Possessing many of his mature trademarks, its first movement contains an intricate rhythmic figure that is identical to Schaunard's theme - only in rhythm - from the first scene of Puccini's La Bohème. Though possible, it's hard to believe this was coincidence.
In any case, Wolff managed an excellent, well-shaped reading, with a big orchestra, a prominent piano part, a beautiful Malcolm Smith oboe solo opening the slow movement and an unexpected, climactic ending chord, which produced a standing ovation. Like the "great" Haydn, this symphony also deserves more frequent hearings.