Evaluation: ASO has pretty (and some ragged) moments beneath baton of Storgårds

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Finnish conductor John Storgårds led the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in what ought to have been essentially the most compelling program this season. Carried out Thursday in Symphony Corridor, the live performance held lots of the sides of why we attend concert events: a bracing new work, a crowd-pleasing concerto with a superb soloist, a captivating rediscovery and, to cap the night, a heat, flowing symphony filled with heroic tunes. Architecturally, the theme-and-variations format helped join your complete night.

The orchestra opened with a brand new title and a contemporary new voice. Outi Tarkiainen’s “Midnight Solar Variations” is in regards to the glowing nighttime mild within the Arctic summer time. It’s additionally about, because the Finnish composer places it, “Giving start, when the girl and the kid inside her half firm, restoring her former self as the sunshine fades into autumn.” 

You don’t fairly hear all that within the music. However the 10-minute work is beautiful and suggestive of muted, shifting colours which are directly eerie, tender and affectionate. Nothing tangible truly occurs, so it looks like a scene that’s simply outdoors the listener’s perspective. Maybe we’re witnessing somebody’s reactions to a transcendent expertise.

About midway into it, echoing Doppler results make it really feel like we’ve entered a time warp — a form of Lapland pastorale. All through, there’s no melody or sense of rhythm — no pulse — simply sensations and impressions. The beautiful fadeout on the finish is extra proof that this can be a composer with a complicated approach and a robust sense of poetic expression.  

John Storgårds
For his encore, Barnatan returned to play variations of Gershwin’s “I Acquired Rhythm.”

Storgårds comes with a stable popularity, on the fringes of the worldwide circuit. He’s achieved the rounds of main orchestras throughout (Cleveland, Berlin, New York, and many others.) and is principal visitor conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2019, he led the premiere of Tarkiainen’s “Midnight Solar Variations” on the prestigious BBC Proms summer time pageant in London. On Thursday, I want the ASO had performed it twice.

Pianist Inon Barnatan was deluxe casting as soloist in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, 24 variations on a devilish violin tune blended with the Dies Irae, a medieval plainchant hymn for Judgment Day (and a cartoonish machine, ceaselessly deployed, by Romantic composers). Barnatan, often called a deep musical thinker with a chiseled approach and a profitable charisma on the keyboard — he’s acquired all the things, in different phrases — made the Rhapsody scrumptious enjoyable.

Within the meditative center sections, when a hovering pop melody emerges, the Israeli-born pianist let it unspool elegantly, with minimal sweetness in his tone and with crisp, mild contact — a mixture of melancholy and delicacy and massive weight.  

Storgårds was much less assured in his accompaniment, and the orchestra wasn’t all the time along with their soloist or with one another. Some bitter brass enjoying and ragged entrances didn’t distract from the enjoyment of listening to Barnatan in his spectacular aspect.               

As an encore, Barnatan returned to the piano for variations of Gershwin’s “I Acquired Rhythm” in a daredevil-crazy solo association by Earl Wild. It ends with a giddy show of sonic saturation, the place the pianist smashes each forearms down on the keys, enjoying all the notes. Triple fortissimo. You possibly can’t assist however chuckle and cheer. Barnatan’s a showman on the highest degree. The gang ate it up.

After intermission we acquired a rarity: two widespread piano items by the good Frédéric Chopin — the Nocturne in A-flat and the “Grande valse brillante” — transcribed for orchestra by the younger Igor Stravinsky. These preparations are a glimpse right into a legendary second from Twentieth-century music historical past. Even fanatics, the kind of people that personal the 57-CD Full Stravinsky Columbia/Sony Recordings field set, wouldn’t doubtless know them, because the composer himself by no means licensed a recording. 

Most everybody adores Stravinsky’s massive ballets for impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, which relocated to Paris after the Bolshevik Revolution. The corporate’s largest commissions, together with The Firebird, Petrouchka and The Ceremony of Spring, modified the course of music and have electrified audiences ever after. Seems {that a} 12 months earlier than The Firebird, in 1909, Diaghilev had first approached Stravinsky to create just a few Chopin preparations for an replace to a ballet referred to as Les Sylphides. The not-yet-world-famous composer jumped on the likelihood for his music, for the primary time, to be carried out outdoors of Russia. 

There have been moments that lacked cohesion, as if the orchestra was under-rehearsed.

So what do these transcriptions sound like? Can we hear hints of the harmonic and rhythmic earthquakes to return? As British Stravinsky biographer Stephen Walsh describes them, they’re “a translation of Chopin into the language of artwork nouveau.”

Nicely, it didn’t come throughout that manner. Storgårds and the ASO provided these preparations as linear and, on this context, charming to listen to. You wouldn’t name the orchestrations lavish or full-bodied (or, certainly, “Stravinskian,” which is perhaps the loftiest reward). They sounded the way in which a smiling youngster making an attempt on his dad’s outsized hat and jacket seems, extra lovable than convincing.

The night closed with Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, music from the ASO’s core repertoire. Storgårds has gained European awards for his Sibelius recordings, so expectations had been excessive. However he couldn’t appear to get the ASO to observe his baton. As within the Rachmaninoff, there have been an amazing many small miscues and hesitations. The balances between sections had been typically off, with lengthy moments of indiscriminate blaring from the again of the stage. All of it sounded under-rehearsed, or as in the event that they lacked that important conductor-orchestra chemistry. Nonetheless, the lengthy arc of Storgårds’ interpretation was totally convincing.  

The live performance repeats Saturday at 8 p.m., and we would anticipate the cohesion on stage to be markedly improved.


Pierre Ruhe was the founding govt director and editor of ArtsATL. He’s been a critic and cultural reporter for the Washington Submit, London’s Monetary Instances and The Atlanta Journal-Structure, and was director of inventive planning for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He’s publications director of Early Music America.


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