By Peter Jacobi
Last April, the Indianapolis Symphony and its gifted music director, Krzysztof Urbanski, paid us a visit to help mark the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” with an indelible performance of that score. This year, we had more Stravinsky, a magical presentation of another ballet score, that for “The Firebird.”
The ballet music came last in an all-Russian program that started with Mussorgsky’s tone poem, “A Night on Bare Mountain,” as completed and orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and continued with Rachmaninoff’s lush and lyrical showpiece, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. For the Rachmaninoff, Urbanski had selected Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya as soloist, and she was remarkable.
The Mussorgsky foreshadowed what was to come. Maestro Urbanski had prepared a devilish evocation of what the composer had in his mind: the mountain-top gathering of witches and sorcerers on the eve of St. John and the ensuing revelry. By now, three years into his directorship, conductor and orchestra seem to have developed effective communication through Urbanski’s clearly defined choreography on the podium. The baton hand keeps the beat. The other provides finger-pointing reminders of which musicians do what. Flutters and waves add to the silent language, as do the body twists and jumps of a lean and lithe physique.
When Rachmaninoff wrote for the piano, he was, of course, writing for himself. In the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, he wrote a dazzling collection of pyrotechnical variations, intermingled with melodic outbursts that helped to make this one of the composer’s most popular works. Soloist Vinnitskaya not only captured the showy aspects of the music but found inventive ways to enrich the melodic line and, thereby, make it emerge as fresh and new. Urbanski and the ensemble added to the inventive reading.
“The Firebird” performance was thrilling, laden with mystery and tonal opulence, a magnificent sampling of what Urbanski has accomplished in making the ISO his sensitive and intuitive partner. They make a team, one I hope stays together for a long while and keeps us, here in Bloomington, on its schedule with regularity.
© Herald Times 2014