Saturday, March 2, 2019

Svetlin Roussev returns to the ISO schedule for the first time since his IVCI Laureate status got him there in 1998

Svetlin Roussev, the distinguished Bulgarian violinist who has amassed many distinctions since his placement among six International Violin Competition of Indianapolis laureates nearly 21 years ago, made the most of his concerto appearance Friday night with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Jacob Joyce made dashing impression as a stand-in for ISO's originally scheduled guest.


The "Sounds of Spain" theme allowed him to occupy the guest soloist spotlight with Edouard Lalo's expansive "Symphonie espagnole," op. 21. Across five movements, the Spanish-influenced work by a French composer lives up to its title: It weaves musical threads between violin and orchestra throughout, even though the solo instrument is never out of prominence for long.

The concert was also remarkable for the Classical Series debut of the ISO's associate conductor, Jacob Joyce. The second-in-command staff conductor for music director Krzysztof Urbanski was pressed into service by Bramwell Tovey's cancellation due to a family emergency. (The international blogger Norman Lebrecht noted the substitution in a post yesterday that had Joyce's title wrong and indicated Tovey withdrew because of his personal illness.)

Joyce will conclude his debut weekend in the ISO's premier series today in a Hilbert Circle Theatre concert beginning at 5:30 p.m. The abbreviated Coffee Classical concert Thursday morning started the current focus on the impressively experienced 26-year-old musician; it will continue when Joyce leads the annual Side-by-Side Concert Wednesday. James Johnson, the orchestra's CEO, announced from the stage both the conductor substitution and the ISO's decision to dedicate this weekend's concerts to the memory of Andre Previn.

Roussev and Joyce exhibited a firm partnership throughout "Symphonie espagnole." As I observed in a review of his 2017 IVCI recital at Indiana History Center, Roussev is a deliberate interpreter, exhibiting a full spectrum of sensitivity to the material. The probity of his artistic personality doesn't mean he lacks a feeling of spontaneity, however. There was plenty of fire and tenderness both in his Lalo performance, capped as it was by a fleet rendering of the Rondo finale that brought the audience to its feet.

Bow and baton parallelism symbolizes tightness of Roussev-Joyce partnership
The meeting of minds between conductor and soloist was exemplary. A crucial factor may have been Joyce's achievement as a prize-winning violinist, continuing beyond his student years. I was impressed by how unified the teasing tempo changes in the Scherzando: Allegro molto were, by the deftness of the accompaniment during the Intermezzo: Allegretto non troppo, and by the balanced aptness of the wind-chorale sonorities in the Andante.

When Roussev was not onstage, Joyce and his ISO colleagues exhibited similar affinities. The flashiness of such music as the "Orgia" finale of Turina's "Danzas fantasaticas" didn't interfere with an adroit tying together of the movement's rhythmic patterns.  Throughout the evening, flow was always a vital part of the point, and yet, particularly in Ravel's "Rapsodie espagnole," the distinctness of orchestral voices was given personality and sufficient weight. Soloing hewed to a high standard, including that of guest concertmaster Caroline Goulding, Roger Roe (English horn)  and Robert Danforth (principal horn).

The inevitably stirring suite of dances Manuel de Falla devised from his ballet "The Three-Cornered Hat" had the brio and full-spectrum brilliance of a finale. At nearly 10 o'clock when the orchestra finished it, the suite left the impression of wrapping things up, but there was still a pair of movements from Falla's "La vida breve" to follow. In retrospect the more reflective music, though nicely brought off here, might better have been placed before the orchestra donned that fancy hat.

In any case, a seal was put upon the associate conductor's auspicious main-series debut. Lebrecht seemed to imply that this weekend may give Joyce some of the luster of Leonard Bernstein's 1943 burst into fame with the New York Philharmonic. But we live in different times in a different place, and must take typically modest Midwestern satisfaction in our good fortune.

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