The ASO presented a concert showcasing Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in D Minor and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor. The soloist in the Mozart was the ASO Music Director Robert Spano and the performance was conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles. Spano is a compact gentleman who plays the piano without great histrionics. He is a no nonsense and capable pianist. The Mozart 20th is the piano concerto we all studied in music appreciation. It is filled with rocket themes and is in traditional concerto form. The romance is quite nice. In this period of Mozart’s life, he began to develop more melodic content rather than themes based on rapid-fire bowings. This is the Mozart that speaks to me more than some of his earlier work that seemed to be elegant but based on a formula that Mozart knew perhaps better than others, but which to me is predictable and not particularly intriguing. I enjoyed Spano’s take on the music and the ASO was a competent partner.
The Bruckner (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Bruckner) work is in four movements that take about one hour and 15 minutes to perform. I find the music at times powerful, sometimes perplexing and at other times boring. I personally think the symphony would have been better had it be pared down to about 50 minutes so that themes and their development would be less repetitive. Bruckner’s music reflects his background as on organist because it frequently employs sounds similar to organ pedal notes. Again, for me, Bruckner’s music is a series of pianissimo periods played by strings and winds to be followed by a grand forte coming from the brass. And it happens over and over again. The good news is that this music fits well the ASO strengths. Its strings are dark and not shimmery. The brass are, for the most part, strong and the wood winds are also very capable. The harsh Symphony Hall acoustical environment can make the fortes ear splitting, however. Bruckner requires the addition of four Wagner tubas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagner_tuba) to supplement the horns. I have never felt that the French horn section in the ASO was the equal of the orchestra’s other sections. It frequently has intonation problems as well as ensemble problems. But the Wagner tubas played very well together, as did the French horn section. Maybe they really like Bruckner. The ASO seems well-suited to playing this long and dense music. It requires physical stamina and the orchestra acquitted itself well. Runnicles and the ASO received a standing ovation, which is fairly common in Atlanta, even when undeserved. It was deserved, however, in this case.