Mark Gresham | January 7, 2019
In May 2018, I heard violinist Justin Bruns and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Mulligan, perform Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons) in a concert at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center in Madison, Georgia. In the review of that concert, I wrote that it was “the most energized and compelling performance of The Four Seasons I have heard live.”
That statement still holds true.
This past Saturday, Bruns, who is the ASO’s associate concertmaster, performed it again as soloist with the orchestra and associate conductor Mulligan at the helm. This time it was at Atlanta Symphony Hall, paired with a complementary work, Astor Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), arranged for for solo violin and string orchestra by Leonid Desyatnikov.
Based on the Madison performance from 2018, I came to Saturday’s performance with great anticipation – along with a packed house of fellow concertgoers which included audience seated on stage behind the small orchestra. Unfortunately, it did not meet the same high bar of what I heard in 2018.
There was much less sense of immediacy in the large Symphony Hall than there was in the intimate hall of the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center. Including Bruns and Mulligan, there were fewer than two dozen musicians on the Symphony Hall stage, which is rather large as stages go for symphonic concerts.
But while I would like to blame the difference on the venue alone, there a few other issues involving balance and ensemble in this instance. The opening of “Spring” took a little while to come into focus. Even so, velocity and intent of energy were not lacking in either Bruns’ performance or that of the orchestra. It’s more the simple fact that nobody bats 1.000 and the 2018 Madison performance remains champion. Having experienced both, would I go to hear Bruns, Mulligan and the ASO perform it again in the future? Absolutely. I look forward to that possibility.
Astor Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas was the more exciting, superior performance of the evening. It succeeded as such on purely musical terms, though the inclusion of excellent tango dancers Eva Lucero and Patricio Touceda proved a delightful, attractive bonus feature.
Combining elements of tango, jazz and classical music, Piazzolla wrote the music over a span of several years for his own Quinteto Nuevo Tango to perform – an ensemble comprised of bandoneon, violin, electric guitar, piano and string bass. Given the allusions to Vivaldi’s work, including a few direct quotations here and there, it was inevitable that someone like Desyatnikov would create an arrangement for solo violin and strings. Commissioned by violinist Gideon Kramer, it is an effective, worthy transcription which pairs very well on a program with Vivaldi’s. (It would also be interesting to someday hear Piazzolla’s work paired with Mark O’Connor’s The American Seasons, which is nearly the same length as Vivaldi’s set.)
Bruns, who had exchanged his black shirt worn in the first half for a floral-in-black one to suite the Argentine character of the work, was at his best delivering the impassioned solo violin part, well supported by Mulligan and the ASO in some very engaged playing. Although Bruns’ violin is the featured soloist overall, principal cellist Ranier Eudeikis, who joined the orchestra just this season, was afforded a prominent lyrical solo passage in the second part (Autumn) that he played with passion.
As I am not a dance critic, I cannot speak in depth to the technical aspects of the tango choreography by Lucero and Touceda, suffice it to say, as a pedestrian observer of dance, that they impressed with their clarity and fluidity of movement which suited the music well, complementing but not overshadowing the music – a fine symbiosis of the artistic disciplines. As if to further make that collaborative point, as the ovations at the end continued, Touceda ran offstage to retrieve a cell phone, and the four – Bruns, Mulligan, Lucero and Touceda – took a “selfie” together with the audience as backdrop, to the delight and approving cheers of the crowd. ■