Thursday’s subscription concert by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra started off with a bang under the baton of guest conductor Roberto Minczuk. The opening chord of the “Prelude to Act I” of Wagner’s comic opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” was a blossoming forte rather than a punch. The ASO almost sounded like a different orchestra under Minczuk’s baton, exhibiting an unusually rich sound and exuberant demeanor throughout the evening.
Although I don’t purport to be someone who flies across the ocean to hear European orchestras, I can say that on this side of the pond this was the best performance of the “Prelude” that I’ve heard live. Even if one could quibble about balance in a few spots during the first minute of music, the piece found its groove quickly and kept it up relentlessly to its conclusion. Special kudos go to the ASO brass section, both in this and the concluding work on the program.
The featured soloist of the evening, German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, was up next with Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor.
Elgar wrote his cello concerto in 1919, immediately after a long illness that was finally diagnosed as tonsillitis, followed by painful surgery. He was also exceedingly dismayed by the state of the world, especially the ravages just wrought by World War I. The concerto is in many ways Elgar’s expression of “what had been” before the war and the kind of world he believed had been lost. It proved to be his last major composition.
Moser began his performance by showing a video he made, in part shot out the window of an airplane after it touched down at the Atlanta airport earlier in the week. Moser had full view of the casket of an American soldier being unloaded from the plane with solemn military honors. He recorded the scene and produced the video around it, because he felt it a poignant moment relative to the Elgar concerto he was brought here to perform.
The dynamic cellist performed brilliantly and passionately, and he received multiple enthusiastic ovations. He then played an encore, the intimate and introspective “Sarabande” from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.
After intermission it was time for Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D major, familiarly known as the “Haffner Symphony.” The bold, romantic intensity of Minczuk’s approach that was so effective in the Wagner and Elgar felt heavy-handed for Mozart. A more elegant transparency would have been welcomed. But it could not be said that the performance was boring by any stretch; it did not dawdle or hesitate.
The concert concluded with Richard Strauss’ “Suite” from his opera “Der Rosenkavalier.” Minczuk was again at his best here, drawing a full-flavored sound from the orchestra rather than pushing or squeezing it.
As with the Wagner at the beginning, the orchestra burst forth with curtain-raising energy and whooping horns in the suite’s opening flush drawn from the opera’s prelude. The music subsequently took turns being affectionate and tender, then discordantly comic. It eventually developed into a rollicking Viennese waltz climax, finishing the evening with the post-romantic, crowd-pleasing, rambunctious coda.