Monday, February 7, 2011

What? No ovation?

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra programmed an all-Mozart concert featuring the Overture to Le nozze di Figaro, the Concerto No 5 for Violin and Orchestra, the Serenade No 12 in C minor, and the Symphony No. 38 in D major.  There was one minor exception to the Mozartedness of the concert, to wit, a fanfare titled Miaka Kumi by Alvin Singleton.  This was one more in the series of fanfares celebrating Robert Spano’s tenth anniversary as music director of the ASO.  Like all of the other fanfares played so far, this was just as forgettable.  I am probably expecting too much- like Copland’s fanfare or Dukas La Peri fanfare. 

The Figaro overture was very solid and well-played.  Everything seemed to be going right for the ASO and Mozart.  The soloist for the Violin Concerto was David Coucheron ( the ASO’s concertmaster.  Mr. Coucheron is a commanding stage presence and plays elegantly.  He uses the full bow and makes a grand sound.  When playing, Coucheron really seems as one with the music, in contrast to the first chair of the viola section who recently soloed with the ASO.  The latter sawed like an earnest student while the former commands our attention with his intensity.  The concerto was elegant and the ASO performed admirably, except….yes, the French horns.  In the first movement of the piece the horns enter with a sustained note.  The players were not together and someone was out of tune.  As I have said in another review, the French horns are the ASO’s weakest link.  I was aware that in an earlier performance Coucheron received a standing ovation and in return, he provided an encore.  No such luck the night I attended.  The reception for this fine performance was tepid and few stood.  Atlantans will stand for mediocrity, but not for a really well-done piece.  No encore for us!

The Serenade followed the intermission.  The eight performers were seated in a semi-circle at the front of the stage.  In fact, I could not see but three from my vantage point in the balcony. The Serenade is beautiful and easily accessible music.  But the forward location of the ensemble combined with the acoustics of symphony hall lead to some unanticipated consequences.  When the horns played without mutes, their sound echoed off the rear of the orchestra shell and then finally off the rear of the hall.  Not only was it a distraction, but it diminished the elegance of the performance.  For me, it reduced my aural satisfaction. 

The Symphony No 38 was performed beautifully By the ASO under Spano’s direction. 

One final note- part of Coucheron’s job as the ASO’s concertmaster will be to shape the sound of the violin sections of the orchestra.  One thing that I have noticed over the last three years is that the majority of the string players play, but don’t seem to perform.  I had the privilege of seeing and hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra during the days when its strings were the envy of orchestra’s everywhere (i.e., it was known as “The Philadelphia Sound”).  I have also seen many concerts by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (which some say is the finest orchestra in this country at present).  In both cases the string players move together as if choreographed, accentuating and highlighting the music with their bodies and bows.  I suspect that this performing style does indeed improve the concert-going experience, and likely the actual quality of the performance.  I hope that Mr. Coucheron helps improve the sound and sophistication of the ASO violins.  If he does, it will add gilding to the lilly. 

By the way, I have included a photo of Coucheron and his sister from an album cover.  This is a case of Photoshop gone wild.   

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