Thursday, October 13, 2016

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra pays visit to the Viennese classics with two guests

My most recent encounter with the art of Marc-Andre Hamelin was on disc, but it was enough that, taken together with his performance Thursday morning at Hilbert Circle Theatre, to confirm his fitness for any assignment at the keyboard he gives himself.

With the Pacifica Quartet, he gives a masterly performance of Leo Ornstein's spiky quintet for piano and strings (Hyperion). But under consideration here is his latest concert appearance with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra — the first of two in a weekend engagement split in half by the intrusion of "A Tribute to Prince" tomorrow. The Coffee Classical Series concert used a Haydn opera overture as a curtain-raiser for the Piano Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11.

Marc-Andre Hamelin continues to show the breadth of his musical interests.
Bernard Labadie, a fellow French Canadian, conducted the concert, which also included Mozart's Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K. 543.

The founders of what became known as the Viennese Classical School couldn't have less in common with the Russian-American modernist Leo Ornstein, but Hamelin's suitability at both poles — and in between — has also been displayed in previous ISO appearances.

Hamelin's playing had loads of personality — in fact, an apparent blend of the composer's and his own. His cadenzas in the first and second movements lent further insight into the ingratiating concerto, on which he was sympathetically supported by Labadie and the orchestra. 

In the Vivace movement, Hamelin paralleled Haydn's wit with his own, especially in a cross-hands passage in which assertive phrases in the bass genially answered open-ended statement in the treble.  In the second movement, an extended meditation on the Un poco adagio material served as a reminder that Haydn could be as deeply reflective as his younger countryman Mozart. The finale was taken at breakneck speed, with its untamed sources in Eastern European folk music brought to the fore without apology or let-up. Hamelin has such familiarity with unfamiliar repertoire that he can bring out eccentricities that help define a piece of music without importing eccentricities of his own.

Bernard Labadie displayed his full-spectrum intimacy with Haydn and Mozart.
The concert opened with the Overture, or Sinfonia, to one of Haydn's now-neglected operas, "L'isola disabitata" (The Desert Isle). There was bite in the fast music, befitting its place in the composer's Sturm und Drang style, with unfettered emotions reflecting the rational 18th century's counternarrative of "sensibility." Labadie particularly made the most of the delicate minuet contrast just before the vigorous fast music recurs to punctuate the end of the piece. Like many of Haydn's dance movements, a country flavor clings to it.

With Mozart's E-flat symphony, the rapport between the ISO and the conductor, seated and batonless, was fully confirmed. The interplay between winds  and strings was poised and mutually respectful under Labadie's command. It was fun to hear a couple of assistant principals playing first-chair: clarinetist Samuel Rothstein and flutist Rebecca Price Arrensen.

With this concert, I was struck anew by a difference between Haydn and Mozart. In Haydn, contrasts of material are pronounced for the sake of projecting engaging, piquant dialogue; in Mozart, contrasts are embedded in the unified flow of the complete expression. Where Haydn says, "Here's some commentary on what I just said — isn't conversation fun!," Mozart is saying, "Here's something to think about in which all contraries are resolved in the course of being stated."

Haydn achieved a three-dimensional quality in his instrumental music more than in his operas, perhaps because opera characters attain fullness only in relationship to each other and to the stories they inhabit. Mozart did the latter superbly a half-dozen times in works that still hold the stage. Nonetheless, Haydn overall remains unfairly neglected, probably more than any other first-rank master. The mutual respect they expressed deserves to be echoed down to the present day and reflected in concert programs like this one.