ASO with Jun Märkl and Giora Schmidt

Saturday’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with guest conductor Jun Märkl seemed to get off to a rocky start. The first piece on the program was Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini Overture, which is a charming and colorful piece with which to start an evening of music. Unfortunately, the orchestra was a bit muddy, particularly at the beginning. I suspect that things might have come out better if Märkl had waited a few seconds to get everyone’s attention before cuing the performance’s start: he leapt upon the podium and began the piece nearly immediately, significantly faster than I’ve seen from any other conductor. It wasn’t terrible but it also wasn’t the best way to start the evening.

The evening’s concerto was Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto no. 5 with Giora Schmidt soloing. Here the muddiness of the Berlioz was gone and the orchestra sounded good under Märkl’s baton. Schmidt gave a performance that was technically adept and had a sort of boyish charm to it. The piece itself is pretty flashy and also somewhat lovely with some good stormy parts. That said, I found it lacking the depth needed to really make me excited about it. As enjoyable as the performance was, I can’t say that I felt there to be terribly much to interpret in the piece and I found myself feeling a little unfulfilled. I was not familiar with the work before this concert and the program notes state that it was written as a showpiece for student competitions. I find myself feeling that, as fun as it can be, it might have been better leaving this concerto to its intended use and let the professional soloists focus on pieces that show their interpretive talents beyond mere technical skill.

Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé was the highlight of the evening. I’ve heard the suites from it, but this was the first time that I’d heard the entire ballet and I have to say that I absolutely loved it. It was so rich and expressive and very well played. Even with the full ballet, I still can’t imagine Fokine’s choreography set to it, though. I can imagine the conflict described in the program notes between Ravel and Fokine over this one. It seems like something Ballet Russes era Balanchine would have worked well with, though.

As much as I liked hearing the full ballet, by the end I began to feel sympathy for the musicians who had to play without rest for an hour. The Vieuxtemps, similarly, is performed without pause. I appreciate the effort as much as I applaud the result.

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