Classical Music

By Tom Aldridge

As the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Midwinter Mozart Festival drew to its close, music director Mario Venzago chose last weekend to mix Mozart with two later composers influenced by and paying homage to the great Classical master. Joining our conductor were two of our favorite, most-often-appearing 2002 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis finalists: bronze medalist Soovin Kim and fourth-place laureate Frank Huang. And Venzago opened with a startlingly new (to me) rendition of Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527.

The overture opens with the intensely dramatic statement of the "supper" scene that ends the opera, in which the ghostly Commendatore drags the Don downward to his dissolute, disastrous destiny. This serves as the often ominous symphonic introduction common enough in the late Classical period, and is followed by a brisk Allegro, whose themes conversely never appear in the opera.

Since in the full opera the overture bridges directly into Leporello's opening aria, Mozart appended a brief cadence to end it for concert performance - the one universally used. This time, however, Venzago employed the much more extended Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) re-creation, in which the end of the overture segues directly into the supper scene itself, repeating the intro - with added trombones for a more solemn effect. After sampling a short bit of this scene, Busoni again bridges into the final part of the epilogue (a sextet in the opera), joyously proclaiming that the Don has been avenged of his evildoings and his survivors live happily ever after.

I not only liked it, but feel this version gives concert-goers who aren't opera-goers a chance to hear the beginning and end of the world's greatest opera. Perhaps they'll now be curious as to what's in between.

From profound late-Mozart to charming early-Mozart, soloists Kim and Huang joined in the composer's Concertone in C for Two Violins and Orchestra, K. 190, his first work. Additionally, the two oboes, unusually placed just in front of the conductor, are prominent, with ISO principal Malcolm Smith given much solo work. His instrument's "color" thus stood out more prominently than the two violinists.' Nonetheless, our laureates beautifully matched one another as they have in previous duo appearances, again demonstrating their high stature among all IVCI finalists.

Then came a piece for the ISO's full complement: Richard Strauss' tone poem Don Juan, Op. 20 - an alternative treatment of the Don Giovanni theme. Only the second of the German late-Romantic/early-Modern composer's nine works in the genre and clearly breaking new ground in orchestration when it appeared in 1889, Don Juan is certainly among Strauss' finest, most enduring works. Filled with memorable thematic elements, it includes a four-horn fanfare that nearly stands on its own.

Venzago's reading nicely revealed all the ensemble textures while fully realizing the progressive, large-scale Strauss architecture. Even with some occasional string raggedness, this was one of the more exciting Don Juans we've heard.

Tchaikovsky paid musical homage to his "beloved" Mozart in the last of his four orchestral suites, which he titled "Mozartiana." In it, he orchestrated four Mozart pieces, three lesser known and the fourth, a Liszt piano transcription of the profoundly sublime Ave Verum Corpus for chorus and orchestra (Tchaikovsky never heard the Mozart original). The Tchaikovsky version - without voices - loses a bit in the translation, not quite achieving Venzago's other-worldly realization of the original just a week earlier with chorus. Still, Venzago caressed this version with all he could muster while giving a satisfying account of "Mozartiana's" remaining three sections.

Venzago returned to Mozart to encore his program with the Overture to La clemenza di Tito, K. 621, the last opera Mozart began and quickly wrote on commission, composing much of it while traveling in a carriage. He finished it before completing The Magic Flute - in which he was much more involved. Venzago gave it a rousingly incisive performance.


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