Tonight’s ASO performance was another backwards program, with the concerto after intermission followed by a short piece at the end. It was played, once again, with the musicians seated in the unmodified American layout, with the cellos downstage-right of the violas. And, under the baton of Cristian Macelaru, they played this backwards program well.
The concert began with a rather peppy performance of the 1947 slimmed down orchestration of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. I say peppy mostly because Macelaru took the opening fair scene a bit fast. I cannot hear this piece without an image of Fokine’s choreography coming to mind, so this kind of threw me at first but, after setting aside my biases and accepting that nobody would have to dance to it, I found that it actually made for a better concert performance of the piece. Until this evening, I had never really given much thought to how well the piece works in concert. I can’t recall having heard the piece played by itself before having seen a video of the ballet and I wonder if some of the parts, such as Petrouchka peeping in on, and then jumping into, the Moore’s room while he and the Ballerina were getting frisky, don’t sound a little odd when you don’t have the context to interpret it. I think that better program notes might have helped some of the people who were muttering about the piece during intermission — Metzler could have done a better job of describing how the music related to the action that it represented, though he’d probably have needed more space than he’d have been allowed.
After the intermission, Karen Gomyo soloed in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. I find that people either perform this piece well or they don’t — the difference for me between the best and most modestly adequate performances that I’ve seen have been more interesting than affecting my enjoyment of the piece, though anyone doing a dry or sloppy interpretation make me dislike the entire piece. Gomyo did very well: she took her time with the slower parts without at all falling short on the mad speedy bits, never failing to maintain an expressive tone. Macelaru, in turn, managed to keep the orchestra sounding interesting, never making the jump from accompaniment to driving statement of the theme sound jarring or forced.
The evening concluded with Balakirev’s Islamey. Short though it was, it’s a strong piece that ends with a bang that can hold its own at the end of a concert. To my ear, Macelaru did a good job of bringing out the oomph, but not so much the dancey or lyrical aspects of the piece, but I’m saying that having sat in the back of the mezzan_ne, where the brass and percussion were a bit overpowering and also a bit muddied due to the acoustics of the hall. Even if it wasn’t as pleasing as it could have been, it was still enjoyable. I would, however, have rather left with the sound of the charlatan slinking away, terrified of the ghost of Petrouchka or Gomyo’s strong ending to the Tchaikovsky.