Saturday, November 1, 2014

With memories of a choir-intense 'Requiem' still fresh, the ISO turns its attention to instrumental Mozart this weekend

Center Grove High School will be the lucky site of the next "317 Series" concert by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, thanks to the knack for Mozart displayed by guest artists Augustin Hadelich and Nicholas McGegan Friday night at Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Both the violinist and the conductor have appeared with the ISO before, but Friday's concert was the 
Nicholas McGegan brought out ISO's Mozart potential.
only full-length all-Mozart program starring them at the orchestra's downtown Indianapolis home. The customary Saturday-night classical follow-up is being skipped to accommodate the new run-out series' "Greater Greenwood Program One" Sunday afternoon. (Spillover Halloween chills are on tap tonight at the Hilbert as the ISO accompanies the movie "Psycho.")

To focus on the batonless conductor first: something magical happened throughout the concert's second half. One of Mozart's great symphonies, composed in haste 231 years ago this weekend in the Austrian city from which it takes its nickname, demonstrated McGegan's great gifts.

Performance of Symphony No. 36 in C major ("Linz") was so well put together, shot through with light and bounce, that isolated foibles weighed minimally in the scales. The first and last movements are particularly notable for their variety of theme, texture, and timbre. They illustrate the mature composer's genius for combination and contrast, a way of making fresh material seem the most natural possible choice in its surroundings. That genius came through Friday.

Buoyancy seems to adhere to McGegan's music-making, as does a feeling of spontaneity. On the whole, in the "Linz" the ISO sounded like the Mozart orchestra Raymond Leppard tried to fashion over the course of 14 years as music director and only sporadically achieved. The difference speaks to changes of ISO personnel since then, as well as gains in precision and responsiveness spurred by his successors, Mario Venzago and Krzysztof Urbanski. McGegan took full advantage of that potential to elicit a memorable performance.

The concert-opener was effective as a way of raising the curtain, if much less an illustration of Mozart's skill at synthesis. Rarely can you apply the word "bombastic" to Mozart, but it sort of fits here.  In the opera seria genre he inherited for "Idomeneo," ballet numbers were typically part of the work's concluding flourishes. Often they were the work of another composer besides the one who set the text itself to music, but Mozart was proud of the opportunity to take on the task himself here. This is showy music, full of youthful vigor, but somewhat on a lower level than the best of "Idomeneo."

Augustin Hadelich: Vivid in Mozart.
After K. 367 fulfilled its mission, Hadelich came onstage for two works. He made quite a showcase out of the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D,  K. 218, playing the "tuttis" along with the orchestra. The pace was brisk: I wasn't convinced the "grazioso" (graceful) designation on the concluding rondo was well-served at the tempo Hadelich and McGegan chose.

The violinist's tone and articulation were bright and well-pronounced. Hadelich's original cadenzas were chock-full of zesty quotes and paraphrases from the score; the one for the second movement seemed a little too long, however.

The Rondo from Serenade No. 7 in D major ("Haffner") provided the occasion for further solo virtuosity from Hadelich. The teasing hesitation before each return of the rondo theme provided great interactive fun between soloist and conductor. The composer's wit and fecundity were well served. You could sense McGegan's lively imagination as a collaborator and, most especially, someone able to channel the overflow of high spirits and cleverness Mozart never ran short of until his final illness and premature death.

In response to a second whooping ovation, Hadelich offered Paganini's Caprice No. 9 as an encore — glib, undercharacterized, and a bit scratchy. If only this welcome ISO appearance by the 2006 gold medalist of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis had ended with his scintillating Mozart!