Mark Gresham | 06 MAR 2020
On Thursday night at Symphony Hall, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a concert of music by Wagner, Liszt and Saint-Saëns led by guest conductor Emmanuel Villaume and featuring pianist Andrew von Oeyen as guest soloist. The program will be repeated on Saturday night, again at Symphony Hall.
They program opened with Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner. The original version, composed as a birthday gift for his wife, Cosima (the daughter of Franz Liszt), was scored for an ensemble of 13 instruments which played the piece on the staircase to Cosima’s bedroom. Wagner later created a version for a chamber orchestra of 35 musicians for concert use, which is what we heard Thursday.
Under the hands of Villaume, who is music director of the Dallas Opera and chief conductor of the PKF – Prague Philharmonie, the sweet opening felt beautifully drawn from the orchestra, not pushed. As its musical drama developed, so did the work’s forward-moving energy. Siegfried Idyll proved a wonderful beginning to the evening. Special kudos to the woodwinds for their part in it.
Pianist von Oeyen then joined Villaume and the orchestra for Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in E-flat major. The ASO had last performed the work in the first few days of November, 2013, under rather unusual circumstances. Thursday, which typically would have been opening night, was Halloween, so the ASO scheduled its two subscription concerts on Saturday and Sunday with Stephen Hough as pianist and James Gaffigan as guest conductor. However, on Friday the ASO’s presented the official debut of what was called “First Friday” concerts, a shorter program in which Hough played the Liszt, but was conducted by ASO music director Robert Spano, and paired with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
Atlanta audiences last hear von Oeyen just over a year ago in an impressive solo recital at Spivey Hall which included a body of French music and another big work by Liszt: the mighty Sonata in B minor. It was an impressive performance that was insightful and colorful.
Von Oeyen brought the same impressive power and musicianship to Thursday’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1. He and Villaume were a good match, seemingly symbiotic in inspiration and lively execution, with the orchestra musicians fully in league with them. The performance had am energy and momentum that never stalled or stagnated. Afterward, von Oeyen returned to the stage with more Liszt as an exquisite encore: the highly popular Liebestraum.
After intermission, the program concluded with the Symphony No. 3 of Camille Saint-Saëns. It’s familiarly known as the “Organ Symphony” because of the prominent inclusion of a pipe organ (in this case, digital) as part of the orchestra – played on this occasion by ASO principal keyboardist Peter Marshall with a happy balance and registration that made it an amiable partner within the overall orchestral texture. Villaume and the ASO gave it a bold, stimulating performance. ■