Friday, June 26, 2015

Lunch Break series at Hilbert Circle Theatre gives downtowners 40 minutes of effulgent Tchaikovsky

Guest conductor Fawzi Haimor was born in Chicago.
The tempestuous virtuosity of Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan held an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra audience spellbound Thursday afternoon as the second annual  "Lunch Break" series, now expanded to six concerts, presented some familiar Tchaikovsky to music-lovers in Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Fawzi Haimor, resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, was on the podium for the second concert in the series. Both guest artists will appear in two Symphony on the Prairie concerts this weekend, collaborating on the same work. In addition, the Mussorgsky-Ravel "Pictures at an Exhibition" will be performed under Haimor's direction.

Nareh Arghamanyan put her stamp on Tchaikovsky.
The sole "Lunch Break" piece was everybody's favorite Russian composer's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor. It was a warhorse long before Van Cliburn made it even better-known after his competition triumph in Moscow nearly six decades ago yielded the first classical recording to go platinum.

Arghamanyan, a powerful  26-year-old who nestled some fine lyrical ideas amid this work's ample display of bravura, worked well with Haimor. After the first-movement cadenza, for instance, pianist and orchestra set up a nicely coordinated flow that churned animatedly up to the final double barline. Inevitably, sustained applause followed.

In the outer movements, there were passages that sounded overpedaled, usually when chordal fury was at its most intense. But the feverish elements were mostly under control, and were lent enough variation in mood to make Arghamanyan's performance enthralling. Today's standard of virtuosity is so high that it was a mite surprising to hear finger faults in the introduction, though nothing that obscured the effect of its famous melody. That tune contributed long ago to the concerto's pre-Cliburn fame by being ripped off for a popular song, "Tonight We Love."

The finale showed Arghamanyan's rhythmic acuity and steely focus. She played with an urgency that was right on top of the beat. Her treatment of the yearning second theme complemented the full-bodied sound the violins dependably gave to it.  Similarly, the young pianist confirmed the tender lyricism of the ISO's solo flute, cello and oboe in the second movement's melting theme, which is pertly interrupted by a sprightly folk tune that came off in lively fashion Thursday.

Based on Thursday's warm-up, Symphony on the Prairie patrons can look forward to performances of a flashiness and an intensity well-suited to the expansive vistas of Conner Prairie.

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