Maestro Edward Gardner gave a brief introduction to the pieces on the program before he began conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in last night’s all Rachmaninov program. I always appreciate it when conductors or soloists give a bit of an intro like that: even if everything they say is in the program notes, the way that they say it gives a clue as to how they see the work. He did a decent job as a conductor, too. He took Isle of the Dead dramatically but not without sensitivity to begin the concert. There was nothing exceptional or exciting in his interpretation, but it was good. Similarly, Symphonic Dances at the end of the program got a solid treatment but without anything notable standing out about Gardner’s approach. I don’t think that I had known until I read the program notes before the concert that Rachmaninov had originally started work on the piece as a ballet to be choreographed by Fokine. It’s a shame that the choreographer died before its completion because I think that the music suits his choreographic style immensely well.
Between the two pieces, Simon Trpčeski joined the orchestra for the Piano Concerto no. 4. I liked his playing: he was very attentive to Gardner and the orchestra such that it was like he was engaged in a casual conversation with the orchestra. I noted a similar approach in his 2016 performance of the Piano Concerto no. 2 and, though I don’t have notes going back that far, I think that I felt the same way about his last performance of no. 4 back in 2011. Gardner kept a good balance between the orchestra and the soloist, too, creating an overall enjoyable performance.
Keeping with his clear penchant for collaboration, Trpčeski brought concertmaster David Coucheron up to the front with him to play an orchestration of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise for violin and piano as an encore. (I assume this was the Heifetz orchestration, though I don’t think they announced it.) It’s a gorgeous piece of music and Trpčeski handled it with a lyrical tenderness that was as sweet as it was beautiful. Coucheron’s playing was decent, though he was a little dry here and there and he didn’t get very good sound out of some of the soft and slow bits. I can’t help but wonder how much time he had to prepare; I’m impressed if it was as little as I suspect. Although some such weaknesses were noticeable, they didn’t detract from my experience of the piece and I enjoyed it immensely.