ASO principal oboe Elizabeth Koch Tiscione solos, with guest conductor Nicola Luisotti conducting. (credit: Jeff Rofman)

Oboe and strings, and Brahmsian things, mark ASO’s penultimate subscription concert

CONCERT REVIEW:
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
May 26 & 28, 2022
Atlanta Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center
Atlanta, Georgia – USA

Nicola Luisotti, conductor; Elizabeth Koch Tiscione, oboe.
Elisabetta BRUSA: Adagio for string orchestra
Alessandro MARCELLO: Oboe concerto in C minor
Ennio MARRICONE: Gabriel’s Oboe (unlisted encore)
Johannes BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98

Mark Gresham | 27 MAY 2022

Thursday night’s concert by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra opened with a ceremony of passage honoring six retiring ASO musicians: principal clarinetist Laura Ardan, violinists Sharon Berenson and Ronda Respess, cellists Dona Velleck and Paul Warner, and percussionist William Wilder. Vice president and general manager Sameed Afghani and departing co-artistic advisor Robert Spano presented the honored long-time musicians to the audience.

The musical portion of the evening opened with Adagio for string orchestra by Elisabetta Brusa, an Italian-born composer who became a naturalized British citizen. Returning to the podium for a third program in two weeks, guest conductor Nicola Luisotti led the orchestra in last week’s all-Verdi subscription concerts and Saturday’s special event with violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Brusa’a Adagio is an impressive but dark essay, tightly wound in emotional expression despite its nearly neo-tonal language. There is much contrapuntal texture and lyricism, but what strikes the listener most is the tension permeating its textures. It takes the listener through the wringer, but afterward, the feeling is that the experience was well worth it.


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Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto is a composition with an identity crisis. Today it is a classic piece of standard oboe repertoire. But like many Baroque pieces that emerged from historical margins into standard repertoire, who composed it was repeatedly mistaken. J.S. Bach, who arranged it for solo keyboard, believed it to be by Antonio Vivaldi. An early 20th-century edition attributed it to Benedetto Marcello, the composer’s more famous older brother. History ultimately settled the authorship on Alessandro, and it is now considered his most famous composition. But even the key in which it was written — D minor or C minor — remains indecisive. Modern editions exist in both keys.

For her performance on Thursday, ASO principal oboe Elizabeth Koch Tiscione chose the version in C minor, which we will accept here as professional preference. In a nutshell, Tiscione and the ASO under Luisotti gave it a straightforwardly convincing performance.

Like so many other Baroque concertos by less-known composers, Marcello’s Oboe Concerto is a pleasant enough piece, though not a show-stopper. Even in its brevity, it did serve as an antidote to the darker emotions of Brusa’s Adagio.


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The orchestra did not leave the stage. Tiscione and Luisotti returned for an encore not listed in the program: Gabriel’s Oboe, the popular theme music from the 1986 film The Mission. It was a good and necessary follow-up to the Marcello, which at a mere 12 minutes was frankly not long enough onstage time for a featured soloist. Tiscione’s lyrical playing further enhanced its affective qualities, coming as it did on the heels of the unavoidably understated Marcello concerto.

After intermission came the apex of the concert, the Symphony No. 4 of Johannes Brahms, where we would achieve better insight into Luisotti’s conducting, and he did not disappoint.

In the opening movement (“Allegro non tropp”), Luisotti and the ASO allowed the music a little more breathing space than the imperative of momentum that typically drives the piece, taking the “non troppo” indication quite seriously. Likewise, for the “Andante moderatio” second movement, there was no particular sense of urgency underlying the music. However, the ensuing Scherzo (“Allegro giocoso”) burst forth with unrepressed lively energy. That same energy empowered the final “Allegro energico e passionato” moment through to the end. Perhaps we could have used a little more of that in the first movement, but as Shakespeare said, “All’s well that ends well,” and we can enjoy Luisotti’s more open-aired approach to the first part as another valuable and valid musical perspective worth hearing.

The ASO will repeat this program Saturday, May 28, at 8:00 pm at Atlanta Symphony Hall.


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Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.