Classical Music

Tom Aldridge

ISO Classical Series Program No. 13

Hilbert Circle Theatre

Feb. 24-25

ISO music director Mario Venzago led the orchestra last weekend.

When Mario Venzago does something out of his assumed character, he's often quite successful. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra music director reaffirmed this trait once again when he ended his last weekend program with Ravel's well-known La Valse (1919) - and perhaps revealed its true facet as few conductors have.

Maurice Ravel had transformed his "Poème chorégraphique" from a vision of Vienna in waltz time to a caricature of the waltz resulting from his stressed-out reaction to World War I. Venzago, alone among interpreters of this work, took a practically metronomic pace and rigidly maintained it throughout the work's sometimes violent perorations. I was impressed. And so must have been the orchestra, as it followed its leader's dictates to the letter.

La Valse capped an evening where many positives mixed with a few negatives. Returning for the second time this season as a guest pianist, Arnaldo Cohen made the 50-mile trek from his IU-Bloomington residency to play Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 in A. In contrast to the composer's Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, No. 2 descends from a work high in musical value to mostly virtuosic banality. Yet Cohen again showed that he is more than capable: in handling those big chords, the glissandi, the rapid passage and scale work and that high register filigree that Liszt seems so devoted to. Cohen, as well, wrung out all the musical values Liszt provided him - and maybe then some.

A second high point was Debussy's epoch-changing Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, a work that defined impressionism in the early 1890s. Beautifully conceived and languorously wrought, principal flutist Karen Moratz gave the work, and the performance, its signature. Following was the evening's low point: Arthur Honegger's Rugby, Mouvement symphonique No. 2, less in its noisiness only when compared with Pacific 231, his No. 1 in that series, which Venzago gave us (unwillingly) two or three seasons ago. Ravel's short evocation of the sea, Une Barque sur l'ocean, followed, stepping us upward toward the finality of La Valse.

Chamber cross-culture

Triangulo Ensemble Music Society

Indiana History Center

Feb. 22

Some like it; some don't. In any case, the Ensemble Music Society has, over recent seasons, expanded its performing repertoire from its European-white-male classical base to encompass music from other cultures. Last Wednesday, a flute-cello-piano trio calling themselves Triangulo appeared before a fairly well-filled Indiana History Center Basile Theater for an evening of 20th century Latin American music. The performing excellence of flutist Marco Granados, cellist Gustavo Tavares and pianist Pablo Zinger is certainly not in question; they appear to be tops in their field.

It's just that - according to a few patrons, all Ensemble attendees for years - the society's repertoire may too often be straying away from the European classics which have provided the foundation for this series' well-over-half-century existence. Though we are indeed living in an era where embracing cross-cultural influences in music may be necessary for the survival of the classical genres, the problem for a chamber series featuring touring groups is the infrequency of their live concerts - relative to symphonic music. Thus, we don't hear any of the great, proven repertoire chamber staples with any frequency at all. Any given Beethoven string quartet may go unplayed locally for years and years, in the name of programming diversity. To satisfy her audiences as fully as possible as the chamber group engager, Ensemble president Pamela Steele has a daunting job on her hands.

Still, if you're going to hear a Latin American trio, Triangulo appears as good a choice as any. The players began with a New Medley of old tangos which pianist Zinger had arranged for the group, featuring composers Angel Villoldo and Gerardo Rodríguez, followed by the modernist contemporary Niebla y cemento (Fog and Cement) of Argentine composer Marcelo Herrerías, and concluded the first half with Brazilian Luiz Simas' Série Brasileira in three sections.

Two pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos began the second half, then Jongata by another Brazilian, Edmundo Villani-Cortês. Of course we had to hear that tango master of south-of-the-border, Astor Piazzolla. His Aconcagua was the evening's most ambitious, most rewarding piece.


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