Classical Music

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Classical Series Program No. 10

Hilbert Circle Theatre

Jan. 28-29

A well-filled house gave a standing ovation last Saturday - not to a marquee-level touring guest soloist, but to two of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's own players; not for a flashy performance of a Romantic repertoire standard, but for a beautiful rendering of one of the few sublime works in Western music. Violinist and assistant concertmaster Philip Palermo and principal violist Michael Strauss joined music director Mario Venzago and a small ensemble of two horns, two oboes and strings for Mozart's Sinfonia concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K. 364. The result was magical.

At once symphonic, chamberlike and overlaid with an exalted lyric impulse, the Sinfonia defies easy categorizing. Wolfgang completed it in 1779 in Salzburg just before the archbishop dismissed him by kicking his ass (so the story goes) out the cathedral door. The work's use of four-part harmony throughout greatly enriches its texture, but the dialogue/duo between the soloists creates an unbelievable rapture (without any ensuing "tribulation" or "second coming"). Venzago's work with the strings and paired winds was exemplary throughout, keeping a well-controlled pace and excellent articulation.

Palermo and Strauss carried on their exalted conversation as a well-matched pair, each in-turn speaking first and the other answering, the intermix of parts seeming like absolute perfection. My only caveat is that in the poignant C-minor Andante movement - which Venzago correctly did not play as an adagio - the soloists could have delivered more extended singing lines at their phrase ends, better allowing them to "breathe."

Venzago opened this mainly Mozart program with the composer's Masonic Funeral Music in C minor, K.477. Principal oboist Malcolm Smith handled his extended solo part nicely throughout this short, solemn paean to Mozart's association with Freemasonry. Without allowing either applause or a trip off stage, Venzago doubly energized his orchestra by launching immediately into the universally loved Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K.492. Nimble, crisp, precise and beautifully charged, Venzago's reading galvanized this little gem as few performances have.

Staying in the key of D major, Venzago next offered the Overture to Mozart's earlier opera seria, Idomeneo, K.366 - a remarkable work ending with surprising emotional gravity and a sense of unrest. And, once again without pause (or applause), our unconventional music director proceeded directly into the Prague Symphony, No. 38, also in D, K.504. Written in 1786, its three movements contain the greatest symphonic writing of the 18th century, surpassing Mozart's famous final three of 1788 and all 12 of Haydn's London symphonies from the 1790s.

Venzago perhaps reached his performance zenith to date with K.504: All of Mozart's beautifully intricate textures shown through like haloes in a perfectly controlled, wholly revealing reading: Even without clarinets, the wind parts provided all the colors one could possibly imagine in any work from that era.

Claiming he had to employ the complete ISO forces at least once, Venzago closed with Richard Strauss' tone poem Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28 - a clear step down from the Mozart we'd been hearing. A worthy repertoire staple, Till deserves to be heard in a different program setting. Otherwise, what a concert evening this was!

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