Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kirk Trevor concludes his penultimate ICO season with distinction

Charles Ives, still underrepresented in our concert life despite his Founding Father image in American music, used to rail against "letting the ears lie back in easy chairs." He was referring to compositions that concertgoers were happy to process as comfort food.

There was no chance of that in the case of the masterpieces Kirk Trevor programmed for Saturday night's season-ending concert by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra at Butler University, thanks to a spunky modernist curtain-raiser.

The concert opened with Igor Stravinsky's early tribute to new American music in the popular realm, "Ragtime for 11 Instruments." The acidic scraps of melody, the jagged rhythms, the jaunty mood of this six-minute piece — a trifle with a difference — made for a spicy appetizer to a feast of Mozart, Schumann, and Schubert. The piquant sonority of the score's cimbalom found apt representation in this performance by the use of chains threaded along the strings of a piano played by Heather Hinton. I found the performance alert and flavorful without being fully assured, but it sounded great in the marvelous acoustical environment of the Schrott Center.

The Romantic movement made of fragments and ruins something greater than they invariably deserve. But that overemphasis still leaves a few undeniable masterpieces that no one needs to have completed, though some have tried. Schoenberg's "Moses und Aron" and Mahler's Tenth Symphony are two 20th-century examples. The great progenitor of this accidental subgenre is Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony in B minor (1822).

Trevor  conducted a performance sensitive to the first movement's odd juxtaposition of menace and uplift. The tempo was well-judged, and the pace remained essentially the same for the second movement, with its quite different character. The recurrent, brief woodwind solos — oboe, clarinet, flute — were sunny and adroitly phrased. The ensemble sounded well-balanced throughout, and dynamics had a nice fluidity and logic, right through the mirrored "hairpins" in the final measure.

Schumann's Overture, Scherzo and Finale — a symphony without a slow movement — concluded the concert. Its storminess is more overt than the intermittent kind the Schubert confronts the listener with. Despite its glowering character, Trevor wisely let a lot of air into the first movement, relieving the persistent impression that Schumann lacked clarity in orchestration. The Scherzo put forward some delectable dialogue between strings and winds, and the Finale featured strongly defined interplay among the string sections, with grandiose, full-orchestra gestures reserved for the very end.

Benjamin Beilman
With the continuing collaboration of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, the ICO welcomed Benjamin Beilman, bronze medalist in the 2010 IVCI, to play the crown jewel of Mozart's youthful violin concertos, No. 5 in A major, K. 219. From the start, the soloist followed the old practice of playing along in the tutti passages, which made the pause before he leads the ensemble into the Adagio melody all the more dramatic. He phrased fully but distinctly, and maintained a singing tone. The performance made the most of the work's contrasts, especially when it came to the Rondo finale, whose "Turkish" episode takes the music into a whole different sphere of expression, robustly projected in this performance.

Beilman played the Joachim and David cadenzas in the first two movements, but further personalized his interpretation by performing his own "Eingaenge" (brief cadenza-like phrases punctuating  the main material in the first and third movements). I enjoyed the way he hung back somewhat in the second movement without seeming to drag. Coordination of orchestra and soloist was managed well from the podium in all three movements, and the ensemble size seemed just right for the sake of balance
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