Pianist Ronald Brautigam performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 this week with the ASO and conductor Edo de Waart. (credit: Raftermen (edited))

Review: Edo de Waart leads Atlanta Symphony in cohesive performance of Mozart, Strauss

Mark Gresham | 18 OCT 2019

On Thuirsday evening at Symphony hall, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a concert of Music by Mozart and Richard Strauss, led by guest conductor Edo de Waart and featuring pianist Ronald Brautigam as soloist. It was a comfortable kind of programming that plays well to a traditional audience. It will be repeated Saturday night at Symphony Hall.

The program opened with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K.482 (1785). Although pianist Ronald Brautigam was performing it on a modern Steinway, it’s important to note that he has established himself as a leading exponent of its predecessor, the fortepiano, the instrument of Mozart’s day. Among his extensive discography, Brautigam has recorded the complete solo piano works of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven on fortepiano, all of Mozart’s piano concertos and all of Beethoven’s concerrtos on fortepiano with the Kölner Akademie and conductor Michael Alexander Willens – the latter released just this past month.


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That clearly informs the way Brautigam plays this music on modern instruments, in terms of both style and technique. What we got Thursday night was a performance that was elegant, graceful and fluid but rather subdued. Even with a small complement of strings, de Waart held the reign on dynamics until the very end, but he also drew a clear and cohesive sound out of the orchestra that not only balanced Brautigam’s playing but well-complemented bis musical approach.

Edo de Waart is music director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and also holds the positions of conductor laureate of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. The world-traveling 78-year-old, who has been dubbed the “frequent-flying Dutchman” by British musical curmudgeon Norman Lebrecht, was also named principal guest conductor of the San Diego Symphony this past January for a three year term. That’s a nice handful of current posts on top of the past positions in his long, distinguished career.


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After intermission, de Waart led the ASO in Ein Heldenleben (“A Hero’s Life”), Op. 40, a tone poem by Richard Strauss, completed in 1898 – his eighth and most demanding tone poem up to that point. Although the composer was evasive about its autobiographical pretensions about who is the “hero” of the work, a good clue to the affirmative is that contains extensive quotations from Strauss’ earlier works. The more direct clue is that “the hero’s companion,” portrayed in the extensive solo violin part, wonderfully played by concertmaster David Coucheron, is an explicit portrait of Pauline de Ahna, the composer’s wife.

The 50-minute work, with no break between movements other than a grand pause at the end of the first, is a comfortable favorite of more conservative experienced audiences, it is a big chunk for a classical novice to take in at one swoop, despite the overall “expanded sonata” structure which, along with Srauss’ use of Wagnerian leitmotif, which provides additional handles for the audience in the wordless drama. bit don’t worry about getting lost in the extra-musical story. Instead, go the pure experiential enjoyment of the musical journey itself. That’s my own preference. And in the case of Thursday’s concert the coherence offered up in the warm, well-rounded performance by de Waart and the ASO made that all the better. 


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