April 15, 2011

Istanbul State Symphony’s Balancing Act

Alexandra Ivanoff - A lone trumpet played a forlorn farewell to the Istanbul State Symphony’s long-time timpanist, M. Cezmi Başeğmez, who passed away only two days before their concert on April 8.

After this poignant beginning, the orchestra launched, under the baton of Emin Güven Yaşlıçam, into Rossini’s lighthearted “Thieving Magpie” overture. It was not a good juxtaposition. Owing to the orchestra’s probable grief level, the usual coordination wasn’t in place to negotiate the frills and trills of a somewhat supercilious prelude to a comic opera. Suffice it to say, it was an awkward warm-up before the unusual piano concerto that followed, an obscure piece that had attracted me to the program.

Sergei Lyapunov’s (1859-1924) Piano Concerto No. 1 is not a work that gets played a lot. Perhaps for some good reasons, which I discovered this night. Being a Russophile, especially of orchestral works of the composers of late 19th century czarist Russia, I was especially intrigued to hear this example by a colleague of Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Liadov, Tchaikovsky and others of that era.

The concerto opened with some luscious and romantic themes, some of which captured the slight tinge of Near Eastern flavors those other composers were so good at orchestrating, and other moments echoed the feel of Edvard Grieg’s famous Piano Concerto. In general, it felt formulaic and amounted to a kind of saccharine pastiche that evoked the piano concertos of unknown origin created for Hollywood films of the 1940s. Piano soloist Ippazio Ettore Ponzetta’s light-fingered execution of much of it contributed to its cocktail hour quality in some parts, but in the finale, it threatened the structural integrity of a satisfying denouement. I would like to be convinced, perhaps by another pianist, that this concerto has more substance and could take its rightful place in the repertoire. But above all, I applaud scheduling a little-known work amidst the very familiar.

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