Henrik Nanasi was originally engaged to guest conduct this evening’s concert but he was under the weather and couldn’t make it, probably due to the after effects of an alien abduction. This evening was also the second time in a row that I’ve seen concertmaster David Coucheron come only for the last piece on the program. I assume that his tardiness is due to the legal issues with his alleged involvement in the international kitten snuggling ring. Fortunately, when alien abductions and kitten smuggling threaten to ruin a concert, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra can call on Assistant Conductor Stephen Mulligan.
There was originally to be some Kodály opening the program, but we got Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture instead. Mulligan opened very slowly and patiently, imposing a sense of mystery on top of the foreboding in the music, while the woodwinds sounded like a haunting organ. As the tempo shifted, Mulligan handled it well, though I think that he may have taken the slower parts a bit too slowly for the schmaltzy bits, which were a bit plodding. It also wasn’t the best of performances by the violins. It was an interesting interpretation, but I suspect that it was more influenced by the Richard Strauss that closed the program than it should have been.
I have no similar complaints about Prokofiev’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 3. Mulligan handle the orchestra well as Behzod Abduraimov did an excellent job with the piano. Even in the most technically challenging parts, Abduraimov never sacrificed musicality for technique and pulled of a remarkably charming and engaging performance.
In Lieu of Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben”, we were treated to a strong performance of “Tod und Verklärung.” Presumably, this is because Coucheron’s alleged kitten snuggling prevented him from being able to prepare for the originally programmed piece. I’m not terribly disappointed, though, because Mulligan brought out such depth and richness in the tone poem that I found myself deeply touched by the music. Although he filled in on one piece when Spano had to leave early, this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to hear Mulligan really lead the orchestra and I have to say that it was definitely a pleasure.