Guest conductor Yoav Talmi took the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from Ravel's hothouse to Dvorak's countryside in one of the most memorable concerts of the season - or for that matter, of any season - last night in Clowes Hall.
The French first half included Ravel's orchestration of Debussy's piano piece, "Danse", Ravel's scoring of his own piano duet suite, "Mother Goose", and the same composer's Viennese tribute, "La Valse". The second half was devoted to Dvorak's Symphony No.8 in G Major.
There couldn't be two more different composers than Ravel and Dvorak, but Talmi speaks the musical language of both men fluently. Ravel deals in technical problems. Play the notes right, refine the interpretation as much as possible and the calculated effects will work. But the problem is getting the notes right, to begin with.
Obviously an architect when it comes to the progress of sound, Talmi reached for and got every detail - without letting the music become nervous or fussy - and he realized every dramatic and lyrical potential. The second movement, loosely a set of variations on an idea pregnant not with variety but with monotony, illustrated Talmi's gifts along these lines most perfectly.
Despite Talmi's great success with the Dvorak, it was the Ravelian revels that displayed not only his sensibilities at their finest but also the orchestra's virtuosic, powers.
The real magic began with "Mother Goose". Talmi's tempos were invariably on the deliberate side, dreamy, spacious enough to allow for beautiful string sounds and grace among the winds.
A man of elegance on the podium, he created elegance along with rich sentiment, nothing sloppy, nothing sentimental, just innocence touched by an almost wistful sadness.
Talmi did something quite simple. He remembered the name of the work and kept a good, steady beat under the music, with only subtle shifts of tempo, and made sure that everything "sounded," that no note was written in vain and that all the notes led up to and away from points.
The tunes, which pour out in such profusion, all had shape and a course to run. Talmi didn't torture them with needless rubatos.
Much of the success, and what a success the performance was - was due to Talmi's demand for great rhythmical precision, even in the smallest units, exact releases, crisp attacks, dotted rhythms that were dotted rhythms and not parts of lazy triplets.