"Move over Yo Yo Ma; you have a competitor. Using the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, Op. 107 (1959) as his vehicle, Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk made his Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra debut last weekend and demonstrated that he deserves the plaudits usually reserved only for his more famous colleague. Guest conductor, 27-year-old Cornelius Meister, joined Mørk for an exceptional account of Op. 107, perhaps the Soviet composer’s finest concerted work. Meister began his program with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides or Fingal’s Cave (take your pick) Overture, Op. 26, and concluded with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (1945) — a mostly 20th century program which was more-than-mostly well received.
Following a boat journey among storm-swept Scottish islands, one with a huge cave opening, Felix Mendelssohn was inspired to write an orchestral piece “describing” his experience. His resulting Hebrides Overture, completed in 1832, emerged as one of the finest examples of early Romantic program music. Its undulating motion gives it a seascape quality, which Meister well captured in a beautifully shaded reading. Yet it lacked that nth degree of precision which could have elevated this concise masterpiece to a profound listening experience.
The four-movement Shostakovich was profound enough in its own way. Though Mørk’s cello quickly took command of one’s attention, the concerto uses only one horn. Together with the piccolo, the duo competed mightily with Mørk for attention, with the piccolo sometimes shrieking. Still, the performance, including the third movement — entirely a cadenza for solo cello — communicated both the essence of Shostakovich and the lush-but-lovely sounds of our Norwegian cellist. We’ve previously had Yo Yo Ma here; now Mørk … soon we need to host, once again, the young Canadian, Shauna Rolston — the three finest cellists who have appeared locally in the last decade.
Cast in five movements, Béla Bartók’s Concerto sells the Hungarian composer’s style of Modernism to the general public as well as anything he wrote. Its second movement, the “game of the pairs,” pits a succession of two of the same instruments playing through various harmonic intervals. The fourth movement quotes the “Nazi March” theme from Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony as a bitter memory of Hungary’s WWII oppression from both the Nazis and the Soviets. The rest is brilliantly orchestrated and was brilliantly played, but with the piccolo once again shrieking just a bit in the middle movement, regrettably an Elegy.