"It's a real concert hall," Elaine Eckhart said with almost a sigh of relief about the place the durable Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra will now get to call home: Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts.
As the post-concert reception crowd milled about in the lobby of the new facility, she spoke of the just-announced 2013-14 season with a sense of satisfaction about the bright, enveloping sound the ICO can count on enjoying, even though the orchestra will be heard in five other places as well.
The Schrott's warm sound, which (granted) contends with a brightness that can verge on hard-edged, was much in evidence in a program of Villa-Lobos, Mozart and Copland conducted by music director Kirk Trevor Saturday night. To start with, the hall probably flattered the Brazilian composer's "Bachianas Brasileiras" No. 9, making it seem more cunningly constructed than it is.
No reason why a work of this type shouldn't introduce a pair of masterpieces. But it must be a marketing matter for the whole program to have been branded "ICO Masterworks." Villa-Lobos' short piece for strings is far from that. The moody prelude projected the right atmosphere in this performance, but Villa-Lobos' trademark fascination with J.S. Bach and Brazilian folk music wasn't piquant enough here to lift the fugue that followed.
The piece seemed well enough played, but the fugue subject had little beyond its lively rhythms to recommend it. As the material became thickly developed, the broad folk melody that overlaid it lent chiefly a smothering weight that nearly neutralized the enlivening mission of those syncopated rhythms.
And how stodgy Villa-Lobos' handling of dance rhythms seems compared to Aaron Copland's open, springy pulse in the middle of his "Appalachian Spring" suite, which closed the concert! Performed alertly (except for a false string entrance) and with ample variety of ensemble color, the well-known suite had little in common with the curtain-raiser except its origin in the Western Hemisphere in the middle 1940s.
Trevor managed the tempo shifts smoothly and drew from the orchestra an exuberance and lyricism that summed up Copland's popular "Americanist" phase. The performance concluded with an exquisite diminuendo in the final measures — a triumph for the strings, following many passages when the winds shone.
The woodwinds also interacted superbly with the piano soloist in Mozart's Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595, which brought the concert's first half up to masterpiece level. The gathering cohesion of the first movement was capped by ingenious exchanges between orchestra and piano — passages that could serve as reference points (there are so many) of Mozart's genius.
Pianist Dudana Mazmanishvili played the fast music with brisk authority, sometimes knotting up the thread a bit. But her tone and control of dynamics was first-rate. In the second movement Larghetto,
the aura she put around the notes in the simple theme brought out some of the orchestra's best playing of the night. That wonderful tone dappled the sunny finale, so who could blame her for being all too ready to deliver a substantial encore? It was Chopin's Barcarolle, offering a rewarding exhibition of her clear concept of structure and dramatic contrast, but chiefly showcasing that rare, enchanting tone.