ASO: Robert Spano with Louis Lortie

I can’t be entirely sure the wine that I had during intermission didn’t help me enjoy the second half of this evening’s ASO concert so much more than than the first half, but it did help convince me to stay after such a weak beginning.

The program began with Alvin Singleton’s ‘Different River,’ which I first heard during one of its premiere performances back in 2012. The piece is on the soft side, with a lot of mystery, pensiveness, awe, and a little anxiety thrown in. Like most of what I’ve heard of Singleton’s work, there’s a genial cerebralness to it: a chance to mingle with a welcoming but complicated mind. I enjoyed it back when I first heard it, but Spano’s baton made it sound dry and plodding this evening.

The evening’s concerto was Edvard Grieg’s for piano with Louis Lortie soloing. Again, Spano gave us a dry reading of the score and Lortie, though technically adept, wasn’t able to let the music speak. It was almost like he was an angry lounge pianist trying to keep the music from overexciting the drunken denizens. The nice thing about Grieg’s piece, though, is that if it is done with even modest competence then it’s going to be decent, even if it’s reduced to merely background music.

Lortie gave an encore that I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t recognize — probably a Chopin etude. It was technically complicated, which he did well, and there were some interesting soundscapes created, which probably would be beautiful if someone with a more expressive technique were to play it.

It wasn’t really bad enough for me to walk out during intermission, but there has been a streak of disappointing concerts and it is getting to me. If a modestly interesting person had asked me to leave to go get some cheap sushi with them then I’d have seriously considered joining them, but since Sibelius was up next I figured that I’d stick around since he has a way of forcing musicians who lean more toward the dry, technical side of playing to make expressive, lyrical sounds.

I have to say that I’m glad that I stayed. Spano somewhat redeemed himself with Sibelius’ Symphony no. 2. It went beyond a dry, technical reading toward a well expressed and colorful performance. The piece is full of all sorts of clever bits that make me smile and Spano brought them all out very well. I do have to say that, horns aside, the brass really didn’t live up to what I’d want. They’ve been falling short a lot lately, unfortunately. The trumpets and trombones have trouble making a cohesive sound within their respective sections and it’s not uncommon for a flat or sharp note to come through. Even the tuba can’t be counted on for a completely consistent sound. What I had been writing off as a bad evening here and there is starting to feel like the norm; sometimes I can ignore it but others, not so much.

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