Two extraordinary performances earn audience approval

By Peter Jacobi


Two substantial and revealing works constituted Sunday afternoon’s Indiana University Symphony Orchestra concert in the Musical Arts Center. Conductor David Effron had chosen a pair of number 5s as repertoire: Camille Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto Number 5 in F Major and Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony Number 5 in B-Flat Major.

Both compositions are hefty in content and length. Both are taxing scores and require playing of the highest order. With Maestro Effron in charge on the podium and a remarkable Pillho Bae at the piano as soloist, the results were never in doubt from the very start. One heard two extraordinary performances.

The Fifth was Saint-Saens’ last piano concerto. As with the prior four, it was he who performed the premiere. Fellow Frenchman Hector Berlioz had, years earlier, judged him to be “an absolutely shattering master pianist,” and he must have been, so to tackle concertos that were all, in great measure, designed to exhibit technique.

Well, young Pillho Bae proved on Sunday that he has the makings for a career of prominence. He walked on stage with a stride of confidence, sat himself proudly before the Steinway and dug in. Not only did he master the music’s barrage of scales and chordal runs, but what one heard on listening suggested he might have read the composer’s view that, “The artist who does not feel completely satisfied by elegant lines, by harmonious colors, and by a beautiful succession of chords does not understand the art of music.”

The pyrotechnics were there, as one might expect from a student of Arnaldo Cohen, a whiz at the keyboard, but so was a reach for maturity, so was a finesse needed to fulfill the requirements for the art of this very French composer, and so was, when called for, a welcome warmth of tone.

Conductor Effron made sure that the orchestra complemented the soloist. It really did. And then, after intermission, he led an adroitly integrated performance of Prokofiev’s intricate Fifth Symphony. The work was written while Prokofiev and a host of other Russian composers, Shostakovich and Khachaturian among them, resided at a rest home where the government had sent them to be safe from the dangers of World War Two. He referred to his symphony as a “hymn to the freedom of the human spirit.”

The score is a complex mix of the dark and the light, of sometimes positive lyricism, other times melancholy or agitated expositions, and ultimately jubilant conclusion. The demands are considerable for the best of orchestras. The IU Symphony made one believe it is one of those best. David Effron appears to have made the players believe and — in turn — the players made this listener believe, along with an audience of listeners that roared approval of what they had just heard.

© Herald Times 2015


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