D'indy Work At Waterloo

Posted: July 23, 1990

Vincent d'Indy's reputation within French music circles is sometimes likened to Brahms' within the German. Why, then, are the prolific Frenchman's pleasurable scores so rarely played?

Maybe we don't bother with him because American listeners, as Francophile composer Ned Rorem maintains, have been suckled on the thicker syrups of romance. Effervescence, as in the burbling Symphony on a French Mountain Air, doesn't stick to the bone. Whatever the reason, I have not lately heard (have you?) the Symphony No. 2, Saugefleurie, Fantasie for Oboe or Diptyque mediterraneen, to mention a handful of d'Indy's orchestral works. On Saturday, I'm glad to report, Gerard Schwarz and the Waterloo Festival Orchestra offered d'Indy's Symphony on a French Mountain Air - which had a certain popularity 20 or 30 years ago, during Arthur Rubinstein's long prime.

The distinguished Grant Johannesen, whose understanding of the Gallic repertoire is keen, was the soloist in the hybrid Symphony, which calls for a

piano center stage. The piece often confuses audiences, who think the solo instrument is being drowned out when its role is more an obbligato - providing ornamental solos and accompaniment figurations - than a conquering concerto- hero. Difficulties are exacerbated by this treatment, the keyboard continually in motion, climbing, darting, escalating the tension surrounding an initial English-horn melody. Only during the slow movement, when it introduces a calm theme, does the piano promote itself, and then by understatement.

Since the Festival Orchestra - an ensemble of professionals and students - tends more to exuberance than refinement, a layer of Johannesen's virtuosic elegance was lost in the ebullient fray. But for definition and momentum, this was a reading grandly maintained.

Schwarz's concerts characteristically are varied and well-planned. This one proved enjoyable for the momentum that arched across its mix of unfamiliar and familiar traditionalism. It began with Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, securely songful and robust, only occasionally blustering. Leon Kirchner's Toccata (1955) followed, its spry, taxing counterpoint handled with a nearly unflagging energy.

To conclude, there was the Prokofiev Suite No. 2 From "Cinderella." Among its virtues was the lyrical elasticity Schwarz summoned from his forces. Beautifully phrased were the "Dancing Lesson and Gavotte," whose attacks were precisely and finely weighted, and "Cinderella at the Castle." The summer ensemble has learned the lesson of the singing line. The need now is to sharpen its senses of volume and chiaroscuro, to curb its volubility by aiming for finesse. The Waterloo Festival Orchestra plays Saturdays through Aug. 11.

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