On Thursday evening in Symphony Hall, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed music by Ravel, Mozart and Beethoven, led by guest conductor Jun Märkl and featuring ASO principal bassoon Carl Nitchie. Two more performances remain, tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m.
The concert opened with Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin.” Like some of Ravel’s other best orchestral pieces, it was originally written for piano; the piano version was written between 1914 and 1917 and orchestrated in 1919. From the very start, Märkl engaged the music and the orchestra with a smile and crisp, punctuated gestures. He and the players gave the piece a well-honed interpretation, freshly spirited, with clear textures and beautifully shaped phrases.
Nitchie took the stage as soloist for the next work, Mozart’s Concerto in B-flat major for Bassoon and Orchestra. Although there have been a number of concertos written for the instrument, especially in the 20th century, Mozart’s remains the favorite and is by far the most played and studied concerto in the bassoon repertoire. This isn’t the first time Nitchie has played it with the ASO; he performed it about a decade ago in a subscription concert and again in one of the ASO’s community outreach concerts.
Mozart wrote the concerto in 1774 when he was 18 years old. He takes the solo bassoon part no higher than A above middle C. But in addition to the rapid arpeggios, scalar passages and trills, the solo part often requires from the bassoonist large leaps from one register to another — in one instance, a leap from the instrument’s lowest note, a B-flat, to a high F, an interval of two octaves and a fifth.
It’s a concerto that shows off a bassoonist’s lyrical and virtuosic capabilities within the context of musically pleasant time. And Nitchie did not disappoint. He received a good number of cheers from the audience, in addition to a standing ovation.
The second half of the concert was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, often called the “Pastorale Symphony” because of the programmatic descriptions of scenes from the Austrian countryside that the composer gave to each movement — something rather innovative at the time and one of his few works to do so.
Märkl and the orchestra gave the first three movements a very sunny rendering, then launched into Beethoven’s darker “furrowed brow” character with the fourth, described as “Thunderstorm, Tempest.” The final movement returns to a thankful “shepherd’s song” after the storm clouds part — happy but wiser, with a fuller, greater warmth than the opening. Märkl and the orchestra gave the final chords more of a bloom than a bang, eliciting an “ahh!” in immediate response from some audience members, then a full-bodied ovation with some exclamations of “bravo!” here and there. A gentleman sitting behind me simply said, “That was beautiful!”
And perhaps that best sums up this concert in a nutshell. No great challenges to how we listen to music or why; no baggage of external, non-musical agendas attached. True, every now and then we need those things, but on this night the audience was allowed to enjoy the music for the love of the music itself. That’s a good thing, not just for seasoned audience members who are comfortable with their own ears, but for young people too. It’s not that we are educated into loving, but rather that we are loved into learning and wanting to become part of a shared experience of beauty, whether as performer or audience. Even in the 21st century, there is room for beauty in art.