Sunday, November 24, 2019

Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra puts a principal in the solo spotlight, along with an IVCI medalist

The marquee composition on an Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra program waggishly titled "Czech Mates" was composed by a North German who settled in Vienna and looked eastward musically now and then.

Marjorie Lange Hanna's  ICO tenure is as long as anyone's.
Johannes Brahms' Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra has a Hungarian flavor in the finale, which puts it roughly in the neighborhood of the Czech homeland of Bohuslav Martinu and Leos Janacek, two other composers featured in the November 23 concert at Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts.

The remaining piece comes by its Czech associations through its nickname: W.A. Mozart's "Prague" Symphony (No. 38 in D major, K. 504). The nickname is authentic, unlike many such monikers, in that it was composed for
its premiere in the Bohemian  city where the Austrian composer's later work was well received.

Andres Cardenes, 1986 IVCI bronze medalist.
For the solo roles in the Brahms "Double," the ICO had the partnership of Andres Cardenes, who won the bronze medal in the 1986 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and went on to a distinguished career, and Marjorie Lange Hanna, principal cellist and charter member of the 34-year-old orchestra. The concert's position on the IVCI Laureate Series helps account for the near-capacity audience in the 475-seat Schrott.

After a commanding orchestra statement to launch the work, a cello solo — directed by the score to resemble a recitative  — came off less declamatory and assertive than usual. It was a soberly careful introduction to the dialogue of the soloists, who set out some nicely dovetailed phrasing in the course of the opening movement. The slow movement featured artfully "sung" contributions by the solo partners, and was notable for outstanding wind playing.

In the outer movements, excessive vigor from the four horns, placed along the stage's back wall, became an issue in the acoustically sensitive hall. There were momentary coordination problems between soloists and ensemble; to some extent, they may be traced to the work itself, which one commentator delicately suggests throws up "acoustical obscurities in one or two places."

The other major work, the Mozart symphony, enjoyed a brisk reading. Its panache was brightly outlined in the first movement, a busy well-integrated Allegro whose texture foreshadows Mozart's most awe-inspiring symphonic construction: the finale of the "Jupiter" Symphony. This "symphony without a minuet," as it is often identified, featured a slow movement that in this performance unfolded eloquently. Initially, however, there seemed to be disagreement as to how much the first phrase's tempo should slacken for the sake of expressiveness toward the end. The finale was an exemplary summing-up of the work's many strokes of genius.

The short works gave a pleasant substantiation of the "Czech Mates" concert title. Martinu's Overture, H. 345, benefited from music director Matthew Kraemer's placement of first and second violins opposite each other. The retrospective nature of the piece was underlined by a concerto grosso texture, with an adept solo group keyed to the playing of concertmaster Tarn Travers. After a momentary lull in the middle, the work gathered energy until it projected a rather forced majesty in conclusion. No doubt that contrivance helped make this piece a worthy curtain-raiser, however.

After intermission came the Janacek Suite (Serenade) for Orchestra. op. 3. Bracketed by a couple of "con moto" movements were a brace of soft-spoken movements, with some attractive harp enhancements to the composer's peculiar brand of lyricism. The work was performed at the polished level, with  nicely distributed instrumental colors, that the ICO has proved regularly capable of under Kraemer's baton in its copacetic home base.

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