Three for the price of one


"ISO Classical Series Program No. 7

Hilbert Circle Theatre

Jan. 4-5

Two American Pianist Association fellows plus a seasoned veteran added up to a pianistic launch for 2008 and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. With the Hilbert Circle Theatre packed to the gills last Saturday, we experienced three piano concertos in a row, all repertoire standards — surely a first in ISO programming. Moreover, the performance caliber of each pianist made the evening exciting, with familiar guest conductor Thomas Wilkins easily pulling his own weight on the podium.

2006 APA fellow Stephen Beus soloed with Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat to begin the proceedings. Of the composer’s two numbered concertos and his “deadly” difficult Todentanz for piano and orchestra, the E-flat is easily the best: the most musical with the best-remembered themes and virtuosity for once not an end in itself. Both piano and orchestra trade off the musical material, then come together with it, the triangle notorious at its premiere for its appearance opening the third movement.

Filled with tempo and dynamic nuance, plus fine opening-movement violin and clarinet solos, the Liszt portended well what was to come. Beus showed admirable skill at bringing out both the notes and the work’s musical values — those expressive shades that we don’t hear quite like this from others, but which fit equally well into Liszt’s virtuosic brand of Romanticism.

The other 2006 APA fellow, Spencer Myer, followed with Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, written in 1926 shortly after his more famous Rhapsody in Blue. This is Gershwin’s only multimovement work and is his closest identification with the large-scale “classical” world.

Myer and Wilkins immediately showed the bluesy element as pervasive throughout the work, forming an excellent partnership in conveying those Gershwinesque sounds. Wilkins pulled out all the colors a full orchestra can accomplish with Tin Pan Alley as its embryo — especially including a variously muted trumpet solo in the slow movement, nicely played by Marvin Perry. Myer showed his own “colors” in the Finale with those rapidly repeated notes taking center stage.

Cited by many as the world’s most popular concerto, Tchaikovsky’s No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23, capped the evening with a brilliantly interpreted, near-flawlessly executed reading by Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker and an equally energized orchestra. Fast was the term coming most to mind … but mostly it wasn’t too fast.

Parker did take the first part of the first-movement cadenza as though racing to get through it, thus destroying the soulful contrast Tchaikovsky requires with the climactic orchestral material preceding it. Otherwise the speed conveyed energy and excitement as Parker and his colleagues assumed control of the tempo as though they owned it. It goes without saying that the applause was deafening.