Mark Gresham | 23 MAY 2022
After performances of a different program on the previous two nights, guest conductor Nicola Luisotti returned to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra podium for a one-night-only special featuring super-star violinist Itzhak Perlman, performing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in the second half.
Having led the orchestra and a bevy of solo singers most admirably in a pair of single Acts from Verdi’s Rigoletto and Aida the two previous nights, there was much-anticipated interest in how he would do with the non-operatic fare.
The first half of the relatively short program was about the same length, comprised of two purely orchestral works: Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 27 (“Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt”), and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture-fantasy.
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is a concert overture that draws its inspiration from the eponymous pair of poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. As in Goethe’s poems, the music first portrayed an utterly calm sea, which, rather than pleasantly peaceful, was considered cause for alarm for sailing ships. But in the second half, the wind finally rises, the ship continues its journey, and the music concludes with a fanfare of trumpets to suggest a triumphant arrival at the ship’s destination.
Like the Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet is styled an overture-fantasy after the eponymous literary work that inspired it: Shakespeare’s play. The music offers impressions of Friar Laurence, the warring Capulets and Montagues, and the titular lovers.
Luisotti and the ASO drew forth the requisite drama in each, to a modest but sufficient degree painting musical pictures in the listener’s imagination.
The awaited event of the evening came after intermission: the appearance of super-star violinist Itzhak Perlman as soloist for Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, one of the most famous and popular violin concertos in all of the solo violin repertoire.
Perlman’s performance was pretty much as expected. It did not seem so much down Luisotti’s alley versus the two previous nights’ Verdi or even the first half of this program, despite his accomplished, insightful guidance of the orchestra as an accompanying ensemble. He was skilled at keeping the orchestral forces from overwhelming Perlman’s violin part, but there were times when Perlman was not playing the orchestra lept up in a fortissimo that was a bit startling and out-of-scope when it should not have been so extreme. But I must also express my personal bias: despite its immense popularity, this Violin Concerto is not one of my personal favorites.
Nevertheless, the audience came to hear Perlman, not necessarily the specific repertoire he was playing. The Bruch is considered a “safe bet” for presenters programming-wise for a “special” with a major star (just as Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was with the Yo-Yo Ma special earlier this season). Rarely is innovation to be expected of such a concert. Such is the way the industry works. ■
- Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: aso.org
- Nicola Luisotti: nicolaluisotti.com
- MItzhak Perlman: itzhakperlman.com/