Melinda Bargreen | 29 JAN 2021
Sometimes, the struggle to present great music is as daunting as mastering the music itself. As our musical institutions strive to go on with their lifework today, the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic present truly formidable obstacles.
Take the current program presented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra online, with New Zealand-born guest conductor Gemma New. The concert was originally scheduled to film during the week of January 11, but health and safety protocols forced the rehearsal and recording session to be cut short.
“Out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of the musicians and staff, this program has been modified,” the ASO website explains.
Unfortunately, the ASO and New were only able to record the first movement of the Mozart “Prague” Symphony (No. 38). A 13-minute work by the 21-year-old composer Sarah Gibson, Warp and Weft, planned for this program, could not be recorded at all. In its place, a duo chamber piece – the elegiac Danse Lente for flute and harp, by the Belgian-born Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) – was performed by the orchestra’s principal flute Christina Smith and principal harp Elisabeth Remy Johnson. Their reading of this elegant late-Romantic trifle was nicely balanced and wistfully poetic.
It was impossible to hear that crisp, clean, well-characterized first movement of the Mozart symphony without wishing fervently to hear the rest of the work. A recorded pre-performance interview with the 34-year-old conductor New, who also is music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, told of her care in preparing the orchestra’s parts ahead of time so that every note would be correctly shaped. The first movement of the “Prague” Symphony appeared in fine style, with lots of brio and energetic conducting, but also delicacy and tenderness.
And then: silence. The other two movements were not recorded. They were greatly missed.
Fortunately, the concerto work on the program – Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, featuring the young soloist Randall Goosby – was recorded in its entirety. And what a performance it was! The 24-year-old soloist, born to an African-American father and a Korean mother, is a protégé of Itzhak Perlman, and has also studied with Catherine Cho, Laurie Smukler, and Donald Weilerstein. Goosby is not your typical young virtuoso, all dramatic flourishes and emotive gestures. Instead, he plays with unusual restraint. He saves everything for the music, which emerges from his violin with such eloquence and purity that no expressive histrionics are necessary.
Beautiful tone, immaculate fingerwork, and superbly subtle bowing make Goosby an artist to remember, one who seems far more mature than his years. His confident performance of the Bruch was enhanced by particularly fine camerawork, sometimes focusing in tightly to fill the entire frame with Goosby’s eloquent hands. At times, the camera angle shifts underneath the left hand, so you can see the actual contact of fingers on strings – what a boon to aspiring violin students.
His intonation, his subtlety, and the purity of sound where every note is right on target, make Goosby a consistent pleasure to hear. The beautifully judged podium partnership from New makes this performance into more than just a “star vehicle”; it was a musical collaboration of two like-minded interpreters of this much-loved score.
This is one of the very few advantages of our pre-recorded pandemic era. Maybe we
don’t get to hear the entire “Prague” Symphony, but we do get a concerto performance that deserves to be watched and heard — all over again. ■