Classical Music He made a sensation with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra two seasons ago, guest conducting Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Munich-born Jun Märkl’s second ISO Hilbert Circle Theatre appearance last weekend was no less remarkable, producing dazzling performances of two repertoire standards: Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 (“Eroica”). Just recently announced as music director of the Orchestre National de Lyon in France, Märkl had been among the top contenders for the ISO post following his appearance here on Oct. 12-13, 2001. The program opened with one of the 13 short string “symphonies” by a very young Felix Mendelssohn, his Sinfonia No. 2 in D, written when he was 12 (1821). Using a small, Baroque-like string complement, Märkl nicely brought out the boy genius’ masterfully crafted counterpoint well displayed throughout the sinfonia, with a slow movement looking squarely back to Bach, yet showing hints of Mendelssohn’s mature style. Märkl’s strings managed the passage work’s criss-crossing layers with good precision throughout.
The Siegfried Idyll (1870) is Wagner’s only significant non-operatic piece from his later years, and even that uses material from his Ring opera cycle. To me the essence of the mature Wagner, the Idyll contains in its 20 minutes almost every stylistic feature that makes Wagner a great composer. Beginning softly with a lullaby and using several Ring motifs, this work for small forces builds to a climactic section, which then relaxes into dreamy repose. Here Märkl’s somewhat moderate pace proved taut, inexorable and compelling — a memorable performance with excellent flute work by Rebecca Price Arrensen.
Few would argue that Beethoven’s 1804 “Eroica” marked a watershed in the evolution of Western music, a piece redefining the breadth and scope of symphonic writing and of large-scale structure. While not surpassing Mozart and Haydn’s greatest symphonies in musical depth, it certainly expands the previous Classical boundaries — being nearly twice as long, and does it better than most symphonies by the 19th century Romantic composers who followed. From the opening Allegro con brio through the Funeral March and the nimble Scherzo to the Finale’s set of “heroic” variations, Märkl weaved, agonized and pulsed his way, both balancing and highlighting the various ensembles — especially the paired trumpets — with ultimate finesse.
This being their 19th program, two more ISO concerts — this weekend and next — will complete their 2003-’04 classical season. Get your tickets now by calling 639-4300.