Saturday, January 8, 2011

How sublime....

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Robert Spano presented a most intriguing and memorable concert this week.  The program included:
Gandolfi:  Pageant
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
Bartok:  Viola Concerto
Brahms:  Piano Concerto No. 2

The Gandolfi is a fanfare written for the tenth anniversary of Mr. Spano’s directorship with the ASO.  The music struck me as if it was an overture waiting for an opera, ballet, or whatever.  It was pleasant, with a few hummable melodies, but in general I forgot each note as soon as it was played.

The Liszt is colorful, tuneful, but certainly not profound.  It would be equally at home on a pops concert playbill.  The ASO did a wonderful job with the piece and Spano seemed to enjoy it. 

I am a great admirer of Bartok.  Some of his music is undeniably the best of the 20th century.  His “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta” has inspired so many movie rip-offs, but it is eerie, startling, and wonderful.  His “Concerto for Orchestra” is dark, sometimes moody, and clever.  The “Miraculous Mandarin” music is so primitive, colorful, and strange.  So if Bartok composed nothing else, he would have made his mark with these three pieces.  The Viola concerto is another matter.  It was a work left unfinished at his death but was “completed” by various others including his son (  I thought the work does not feel like an integrated whole.  It lacks a strong rhythmic or melodic focus.  The viola, by its very nature, is dark-toned and a bit somber. The soloist for this performance was Reid Harris, the principal Violist of the ASO.  Mr. Harris had not committed the piece to memory, so when he played he frequently was looking down to the music score.  His posture reminded me of students who have yet to master the music.  He seemed to lack confidence and, at times, his sound was totally overwhelmed by the orchestra.  I think this contributed to my feeling that this was a rather lackluster performance. 

After the intermission, Yefim Bronfman joined the orchestra to be the soloist in the Brahms.  This concerto is, for me, some of the most sublime music ever composed.  Brahms ability to write a wonderful melody and then develop it is the pinnacle of the romantic period.  It is a long piece- 50 plus minutes, but it went by so quickly.  Bronfman is a master musician.  He is a commanding presence and his strength was evident in the first few notes as well as the last bombastic notes in the finale.  I so thoroughly enjoyed this music and performance.  My only sight quibble was with the French horn players, who are not the best section of the orchestra.  There were a few intonation problems, but they were insignificant when compared to the success of the total performance. 

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