ASO: Donald Runnicles with Kim-Lillian Strebel

I made it to Thursday’s pre-concert chamber recital program for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and took no notes at all. Then I went to see T. Lang’s dance piece at the High and, while waiting for it to start, I realized that much of it didn’t make enough of an impression to stick with me. The first piece was Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso arranged for two marimbas by ASO Principal Percussionist Joseph Petrasek. I remember thinking it interesting and then kind of getting bored with it, which is a shame because I generally love the timbre of marimbas, especially when played in duets, and I like the piece on piano. I did like the way that Petrasek and Michael Stubbart played together, though, and would enjoy hearing more marimba duets from them in the future.

Next was Erwin Schulhoff’s Concertino for flute, viola, and double bass. Of the four pieces on the program, I am sorry to admit that this was the only one that I really enjoyed hearing. The final pieces were Robert Lannoy’s Prélude and Eugene Bozza’s Andantino played on three trombones and an arrangement of Trois Chansons by Claude Debussy for the three trombones with a tuba. None of these made an impression at all and the memory of being disappointed that I left work early and had an early supper to make it to the concert is much stronger in my mind than any aspect of the performances. That’s not to say that any of them were bad, only that the program didn’t suit my tastes.

I found the main concert that I attended on Saturday much more to my tastes. Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles began with a rather nice introduction to all four pieces on the program, warning us that we would probably find ourselves laughing at some of what we were to hear. It began with Milhaud’s Le boeuf sur le toit, which my weak French translated as “The beef on the roof” but it seems that boef can also mean ox or a bullock. Milhaud took the name from a similarly titled Brazilian tango, O Boi no Telhado. I honestly find the idea of a bunch of beef on a roof a bit more interesting than an ox or bull, but apparently this is a common occurrence in Brazil, which is why I suppose there are songs about it.

The piece is kind of a wild mashup of an exceptionally large number of Brazilian tunes linked together by a rondo theme. It’s all over the place and barely sounds like a coherent piece of music but is still somehow a great deal of fun to listen to. Aside from some weakness in the woodwinds, I thought the orchestra under Runnicles handled it well enough for my enjoyment.

Up next was a set of six excerpts from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne: L’Antouèno, Pastourelle, L’aio de rotso from Trois bourrées, Baïlèro, Passo pel prat, and Malurous qu’o uno fenno. Oddly, the title was translated in the program whereas they left the titles of the songs in French. The title of the Milhaud was in French, too. Later in the program, Debussy’s La mer was in French with the translation in parentheses next to it and then the subtitle, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre, was in English.

The soloist was soprano Kim-Lillian Strebel, who has a very robust voice. Runnicles provided a very strong backing for her such that had her voice been even the slightest bit weak then the orchestra would have overpowered it. Instead, the sound they created was gorgeous. The songs were rather silly and the musical setting of them had a certain irony to it: often presenting a level of depth and seriousness not present in the words. Strebel’s demeanor was wonderful as she presented a kind of tongue-in-cheek sincerity while singing things along the lines of “if you were pretty you would have a boat” or “happy is the woman who has the man she wants; happier still is the one who does not have one!”

After intermission were two pieces by Debussy. First were four excerpts from Préludes books I and II, including Minstrels, Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir, La Puerta del Vino, and Général Lavine – eccentric. These featured a lush orchestration by Colin Matthews that sounded pretty good on the ASO but I felt that something was missing; that something could have been better, though I don’t know exactly what.

The evening concluded with La mer: trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre. The sound was a bit big, maybe to the point of being overbearing at times, but it was a fairly good interpretation. It was definitely easy to enjoy and made for a good ending to a good concert.

Leave a Reply