Mark Gresham | 21 APR 2023
Thursday evening’s concert by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra saw the return of music director Nathalie Stutzmann to the podium, with 22-year-old Swedish violinist Daniel Lozakovich as guest soloist, in an unabashed “core repertoire” program of music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven.
Stutzmann has been experimenting with the orchestra’s seating on stage. In this case, with strings sections arrayed clockwise, thus: first violins, cellos, violas, then second violins, with contrabasses behind them on the left (from the audience’s perspective), and the winds and timpani on the back right.
It’s certainly not the first time a conductor has tried that with the ASO. It’s a problematic hall, with some audience and musicians asserting the better sound is up in the Loge (first balcony). It’s hard to argue if she is experimenting to optimize the sound from her perspective on the podium or to suit her conducting preferences better. It’s also not an uncommon configuration, just one that Atlanta rarely uses.
Mozart’s Overture to “Die Zauberflöte” was a good opener. It was crisp and well-played, even if somewhat ordinary in approach and a little Beethovenish in sonic weight. Not surprising that it was programmed for this concert, as Stutzmann will conduct eight performances of the Die Zauberflöte at the Metropolitan Opera in May and June.
Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto began tentatively, with the orchestra and guest violinist Daniel Lozakovich not playing fully in sync. For most of the first movement, the solo violin seemed timid, with a curiously small tone, a bit meek and needing more fire. Once he reached the cadenzas in the first movement, he came into his own, showing musical and technical prowess. Lozakovich played the second movement rather straightforwardly. More flexibility would have enlivened the music’s emotional character. The third movement was dynamic and energetic.
It was in the unexpectedly long encore, the Sonata for Solo Violin in D minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Jacques Thibaud”) by Eugène Ysaÿe, that Lozakovich better revealed his capabilities. The contrast between his timidity in the concerto and his bravado in the encore was thrilling and remarkable. He offered a big sweet tone with more than enough technical and musical prowess to demonstrate he’s not just another new conservatory graduate. It was most impressive.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 was the big surprise of the evening. The performance went quite well. The opening delightfully displayed a certain palpable Austrian-ness of character you don’t often hear, and Stutzmann brought out inner voices in the first movement without compromising its overarching structure. In the core symphonic repertoire (e.g., Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ Third Symphony), managing the overall musical architecture has been one of Stutzmann’s challenges on the Atlanta stage thus far.
The bucolic first three movements were well-paced and painted a nice romanticized picture of country folk. The fourth movement storm was suitably intense but never dramatically over the top. The final movement was a bit slow, but this Beethoven Sixth hinted at what could emerge in this new relationship between the ASO and Stutzmann. But we’ll have to see how that plays out, given some disastrous elements in the St. Matthew Passion performance of a few weeks ago. We’re hoping instead for more consistency in the general direction of this Beethoven Sixth.
However charismatic a personality may be, the helm of a major orchestra is no place for on-the-job training. We’re keeping a close eye on the progress and, naturally, keeping score. What we heard here definitely added a few points in Stutzmann’s favor. ■
The ASO will repeat this program tonight, Friday evening, April 21, at Symphony Hall.
- Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: aso.org
- Nathalie Stutzmann: nathaliestutzmann.com
- Daniel Lozakovich: lozakovich.com