ASO: Robert Spano with Johannes Moser

Thursday’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert was proceeded by a chamber recital featuring three pieces. First was Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano. It’s a good set of pieces and it was played well enough, though I found nothing exciting or exceptional about either the works nor the performance. The next piece featured the first three movements from Smetana’s String Quartet no. 1 with the order of the second and third transposed. This was performed by the Peachtree String Quartet. It’s a good piece but I found the performance a little weak around the parts that required slow and quiet playing. In particular, I felt that the second violin failed to maintain a good sound with his bow wandering up and down the strings. In terms of musicianship, I felt that the final piece was the best played and I ended up enjoying it the most of the three. Arthur Berg’s Woodwind Quartet in C Major came across as particularly upbeat following the Smetana; even the adante middle movement was kind of uplifting. I found myself feeling like it was a delightful shelf upon which to rest my mind while waiting for the orchestra to begin playing the main program for the evening.

The main concert began with Bernstein’s Three Meditations from MASS with Johannes Moser soloing on cello. I felt like the music was seeking to find inner calm amidst a chaotic world/time. The dance in the third meditation seemed as much a diversion from the world while also being a path towards meditation. In the end, the piece seems to find some peace but it feels only tentative with the knowledge that in a chaotic world it is only a matter of time before the struggle for calmness begins again. Moser’s playing was good, though not exceptional. However, he came across as being completely present in the piece and he was also very dramatic, which made his performance very engaging. I think Spano managed to find and draw out the emotional content in the work very well and made it very easy for me to connect with the piece.

I didn’t really feel Spano’s approach for Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7 “Leningrad” quite so much. After hearing how well he handled Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 5, my expectations may have been a bit high for 7 causing my disappointment to be that much more acute. His take on it had this strange clarity to it: not exactly dry but naive and dull. All of the severity in the piece seemed to be replaced by fervor. It made it seem disjointed at certain points as shifts in emotion didn’t really seem to be reacting to anything. There were a number of people yawning around me during the first movement, expressing a sentiment that I found myself agreeing with. By the end, the child sitting next to me couldn’t handle how disappointing it was and cried until his father took him from the auditorium. I can’t blame him. It’s not that it was that bad but to sit through such a long piece without being able to emotionally connect to it was tedious for me and made doubly so for not living up to my expectations.

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