Mark Gresham | 26 OCT 2020
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra premiered the third streamed video concert of its virtual classical subscription series this past Thursday, with principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles leading the orchestra in music by Franz Joseph Haydn, with ASO principal cellist ASO principal cellist Rainer Eudeikis as featured soloist, and the Peachtree String Quartet as chamber music feature.
It was a busy latter portion of week for music in Atlanta, including events with limited in-person audiences: The Atlanta Opera’s season opener, a performance of Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci was also on Thursday night, and the Atlanta Chamber Players opened their 2020-21 season as well on Friday night. Fortunately, the ASO’s virtual-only concert was available to subscribers online through 8:00pm ET Sunday evening, and for purposes of this review it was viewed Sunday afternoon, as The Atlanta Opera, which premiered its production of The Kaiser of Atlantis on Friday with an in-person, at the same time as the Atlanta Chamber Players’ concert, would come to perform that one-act opera again on Sunday night.
Given the trio of events with in-person audience (a genuinely hopeful sign for the performing arts in general), virtual-only events like that of the ASO, with a window of opportunity for viewing, necessarily were the mobile elements in schedule adjustments in order to accommodate the crowded docket. The good news is that like grass growing through cracks in concrete, the performing arts will find a way to break out into the public one way or another.
The ASO’s concert opened with a chamber work, Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K. 465 performed by the Peachtree String Quartet (violinists Christopher Pulgram and Sissi Yuqing Zhang, violist Yang-Yoon Kim and cellist Thomas Carpenter – all members of the ASO). Nicknamed “Dissonance” because of the adventurous harmonies in the first movement’s slow introduction, it is the last in a set of six quartets Mozart dedicated to Joseph Haydn – hence the direct tie-in with the orchestral works to follow on the program. PSQ had previously performed it as the opener for their own mid-January concert at Garden Hill Recreation Center, prior to the pandemic outbreak.
Following the harmonic ambiguity of its introductory Adagio, the quartet snapped into a sunny C major Allegro that set the tone for the remainder of the concert, with cheerful, warmly lyrical, and even bold comic drama that was also to be found in the two subsequent works by Haydn.
The first of those was Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major (Hob. VIIb/2, Op. 101). Although less overtly virtuosic than Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, it is a warmly lyrical and hopeful work that remains rightfully at the core of the instrument’s concerto repertoire. This attractive performance by Eudeikis superbly exuded all of those qualities, mirrored well in the orchestral accompaniment by Runnicles and the ASO.
The concert closed with Haydn’s Symphony No. 60 in C major (Hob. I/60), which is rather unusual, first of all, because it has a total of six movements. That, and its the nickname “Il Distratto” (“The Distracted”) come from the fact that the symphony is concocted from his incidental music that Haydn wrote for a play, Le Distrait, by Jean-François Regnard, in a German translation by Karl Wahr entitled Der Zerstreute – an overture, four entr’actes and a finale, hence six movements. Haydn used the Italian title in his score for the theater.
Musically speaking it is Haydn at his boldest, most “modern” in its balance of tight formal symphonic structure and the element of formal surprise, at times with almost cinematic jump cut between scenes (it was, after all, originally music for theater), and and loaded with humor – the most obvious being a pause in the finale where the violins take a few moments to “re-tune” their instruments, though much of what would be recognized as a stand-out joke to audiences of his day will be missed by most audiences of our own. Nevertheless, Haydn’s positive energy and sense of fun shone through in this performance.
The entire concert by Runnicles and all of the ASO musicians was a happy, enjoyable outing from start to finish . It was well worth the wait of several days to fit viewing it into an otherwise over-crowded calendar. ■