ASO: Spano with Steven Isserlis

I mentioned last week how I was a bit put off by the fact that they only had the English translations of the movements in Falla’s ‘El Amore Brujo.’ I would have probably had stronger words then if I’d flipped a few pages through this month’s program and seen that the Schumann and Mahler on this week’s program had movements with descriptive names in German that weren’t translated at all. I think that more people in the Atlanta metro will know that “Introducción y escena” means “Introduction and scene” than will know that “Nicht zu schnell” means “Allegro non troppo”…I mean, “Not too fast.” The movements of Verdi’s Requiem next week are in the untranslated Latin of the Catholic Requiem Mass, but for some reason every-day Spanish has to be translated. What schmucks (pendejos)!

So, anyway, the cultural failings of Meltzer, et al. aside, Thursday’s concert was a really good one. Not so much due to the first piece, though. The program started with Schumann’s cello concerto in A minor. I like Schumann’s work in general but I kind of have to be in the mood for it. There’s a kind of a social formalness that I hear under his work, like they are a bunch of love poems quietly composed in a stately garden of a 19th century nobleman who stands on ceremony in both his language and his presentation of his feelings. I find that it can feel a bit dry if I am not willing to really latch into the warm feelings being expressed. Under Spano’s baton, the orchestra didn’t really pull enough of the emotion from the piece for me to be drawn in enough to really hold my attention. Soloist Steven Isserlis’ enthusiasm helped hold my attention, though overall I felt his enthusiasm more than the composers feelings come through. Neither Spano nor Isserlis were bad by any measure, but the performance also wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Isserlis’ encore was stronger: he played Pablo Casals’ “El cant dels ocells” (though he, too, decided to translate the name instead of giving us the original Catalan title). It’s a sweet song and he played it very well, though I really don’t appreciate that he decided to play this traditional Catalan Christmas carol before Thanksgiving. Still, I don’t think that he deserved to have his name misspelled on the tickets just for his support in Christmas’ war against the rest of the holidays.

Spano has generally been pretty reliable about ensuring a good performance of Mahler and he really nailed Mahler’s symphony no. 7, the “Make Out Symphony.” Seriously, this work is totally make out music. (What? Yes, you’re right, I am single. What made you think so?) The first nachtmuzik was superb for steamy kissing and there was no shortage of inspiration for silly things that a couple could do with their tongues in the scherzo.

While I like the cameo made by the mandolin and guitar in the fourth movement, I can’t help but wonder what that sounded like in the first years of the 20th century. The ASO did a good job with the amplification – it was unobtrusive and natural sounding – but I wonder how they managed to not fall unheard into the background before amplification. The whole movement sounds like an attempt at wooing to me and the final rondo that rounds out the piece sounds like what the couple did with the rest of their day after they were done with their amorous pleasures in the first four movements: a frolicking promenade through a park ending with a particularly successful party. Aside from an unfortunate pause between the fourth and fifth movements to produce a concert A to hide the sound of the misaligned acoustic shell, the performance was absolutely wonderful and, by itself, made the night’s concert a rousing success to my ears.

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