Mark Gresham | 6 FEB 2023
After what seemed a somewhat rocky beginning to her tenure as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra back in the fall, Nathalie Stutzmann returned to the ASO podium on Thursday and Friday at Symphony Hall, her first appearances in 2023, to lead the orchestra in a highly successful program of music by Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
We attended the Friday evening performance.
When it first announced its 2022-23 season, the ASO had scheduled cellist Johannes Moser as the guest soloist for the week, but that was not to be. Instead, 28-year-old French cellist Edgar Moreau made his Atlanta debut with Sergei Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 125, which opened the concert.
The Sinfonia Concertante, also known as Symphony-Concerto, deserves to be better known. It is a colorful score that places considerable demands on its soloist, especially in the second movement, making it one of the most challenging scores in the cello repertoire.
The opening movement set off in a trudging march-like demeanor, with a knotty melodic thread for the solo cello that grew more elaborate even as the music became more expressive. The cello part was relentless, but after finally getting a dozen bars of rest, Moreau suddenly reentered with a surprising passage of pizzicato quadruple stops. The music pressed forward from there, returning to its original character for a while, then moving into an “Adagio” coda, closing quietly on an E minor chord.
The sprawling “Allegro giusto” second movement opened with a manic, mechanistic quality, followed by a lyrical portion that retained a sense of vitality underscored by tension. The middle of the movement offered significant cadenza material for Moreau (especially before rehearsal mark 20 in the score), after which the orchestra reentered, picking up its agitated character, at turns playful then jittery, gathering momentum toward a potent, punctuated ending.
The variations of the final movement deployed a wide-ranging array of rhythms, dynamics, and intriguing textures, with a witty edginess that was signature Prokofiev. Following a boisterous climax, it concluded with Moreau playing rapidly in what might be a called a stratospheric register for the instrument.
Although not inclined to flashy histrionics, Moreau exhibited an almost dancelike relationship with his instrument, at times rocking back and forth with the music when he was not himself playing. There was at least one moment in the third movement when Moreau moved the cello as much as the bow during an especially significant bow stroke.
After much sincere applause, Moreau returned to the stage to play a Sarabande by J.S. Bach as an encore.
Most impressive was the Symphony No. 5, Op. 47, by Dmitri Shostakovich, in which Stutzmann chose good tempi and achieved excellent dynamics, balance of orchestral forces, and a confident, secure sound in her conducting of the 50-minute symphony. It was the best the orchestra has sounded under Stutzmann’s baton and especially her most convincing handling of a large symphonic form.
Here was the kind of performance we had been waiting for months to hear from Stutzmann at the helm of the ASO. We hope her subsequent appearances on the podium will continue to trend in this direction. ■
- Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: aso.org
- Nathalie Stutzmann: nathaliestutzmann.com
- Ying Fang: opus3artists.com/artists/edgar-moreau