Mark Gresham | 10 January 2020
On Thursday evening the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed their first subscription concert of 2020, a colorful offering of music by Auznieks, Falla and Prokofiev led by music director Robert Spano, with pianist Jorge Federico Osorio as featured soloist. The program will be repeated on Saturday evening at Symphony Hall.
Orchestral color was the predominant feature of the opening work, Crossing, by 27-year-old New York-based Latvian composer Krists Auznieks. Commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival and School, where Spano is also music director, the 10-minute long Crossing was premiered there in August 2018 by the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Summers.
A complex stream of undulating, shifting patterns of harmonies that rock back and forth, occasionally interrupted by brash chords that repeat and fade as if emulating an electronic digital delay circuit; sometimes overlaid by melodic lines that enter then depart the texture. One is left with the impression of the translation of some familiar elements of familiar features found in electronic synthesis that tries to translate into the world of an orchestra of acoustical instruments to produce a tapestry of sound, as it were.
Auznieks describes his aesthetic as preference for beauty over pragmatism, and in this particular music “seeks to inspire a journey to a different state of mind” and invoke “a leap from the familiar physical world and how memory operates in it to some other, imaginary, utopian, idealistic world.” Well, okay, but while I found some of the manipulation of materials initially interesting (from a practitioner’s point of view, at least), this listener’s mind was not all that moved in the end. The composer’s skill at manipulating his musical materials is evident, as are elements of coloristic and textural beauty, but overall it didn’t feel exceptionally compelling. The journey didn’t take me anywhere. That would have to wait for the next work on the program.
Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio first appeared as soloist with the ASO in February 2016 as a last minute substitute for an ailing Peter Serkin, performing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Then in early 2018 Osorio returned Atlanta for a highly successful marathon performance: all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos with the ASO over a span of four consecutive subscription concerts.
In Thursday’s concert, Osario played Manuel de Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España (“Nights in the Gardens of Spain”), a set of three musical impressions inspired by gardens near the Alhambra, a ninth-century Moorish palace and fortress complex built on the remains of Roman fortifications in Granada, a province of Andalusia in southern Spain. Falla lived in Granada from 1921 to 1939, but he wrote Noches before that period, originally intending it to be a set of nocturnes for solo piano when he began work on it in 1909, but completing it as a work for piano obbligato and orchestra in 1915.
The piano solo part is the preeminent instrument of the overall ensemble but far more integrated into it than would typically be the case in a concerto. As he did in his 2016 performance of Brahms’ first piano concerto with the ASO, Osorio drew from the piano an overall aura of elegance, while pushing the instrument’s power only where truly necessary, focusing on details of phrasing and expression rather than a show of bravura – the dominant color in the overall palette.
Most audiences are familiar with the music from Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet (Ромео и Джульетта) through the three orchestral suites drawn from it, particularly the second, rather than the full ballet score itself: four Acts, nine scenes, a total of 52 musical numbers in all. After intermission in Thursday’s concert, the ASO performed 13 numbers from then ballet, together totaling around 50 minutes if music. Drawn mostly from Act I, a few from Acts II and IV, and naught from Act III.
That baler’s dozen should give you a pretty good idea of where the best music in the ballet actually lies – or at least the numbers most suited to concert performance. Even a few of this baker’s dozen could have been left out without harm, and perhaps to good effect in terms of shortening and tightening that portion of the program a little.
While the three suites were designed to give a sense of formal completeness to the music in a concert setting, hearing only 13 of 52 numbers of the full ballet score is somewhat like looking at a vase in pieces, trying to imagine the appearance entire vase from assembling only one quarter of it from available shards – even if they are likely the best pieces that are in hand. But they are also valuable for what they are, as they are, experienced as limited parts of the whole without being specially groomed for the concert stage absent the dramatized choreography. Spano and the ASO gave us a satisfyingly good performance. ■