Friday evening in Symphony Corridor, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra supplied storytelling tone poems in a mixed-media format, the place visuals complemented the musical narrative. These performances, of César Franck’s “The Accursed Huntsman” and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night time,” have been a revelation — as participating and musically full as something music director Nathalie Stutzmann has but supplied.
This yr is Franck’s bicentennial. Born in what’s now Belgium, his legacy has most likely grown in current a long time, particularly with church organists and within the Francophone world, and an excellent many musicians haven’t forgotten the anniversary. (On the identical evening the ASO performed this symphonic Franck, at a church throughout city, an organist was surveying the composer’s full works for pipe organ.)
“The Accursed Huntsman,” which premiered in 1883, is a chunk of moment-by-moment program music. The supertitles projected on the stage’s again wall gave us updates for every scene: the ghoulish story begins with plans for a Sunday morning hunt (simply recognized by the horns calls). But it surely’s Sunday! Everybody needs to be in church (equally recognized by the tolling bells). Our huntsman is drawn to sacrilege, not piety, and into the forest he rides. Quickly demons give chase. The hunter turns into the hunted.
As soon as the literal plot, the music makes this overheated little drama apparent. However giving a number of pointers at key moments is the trick; the viewers’s consideration was riveted, with full consideration to the music.
In the meantime, Stutzmann and crew delivered magnificently. The 4 horns, usually as a solo quartet, have been a power of energy and horror. First cocky and guaranteed as they galloped away, they finally joined the complete orchestra in a screaming frenzy. You may virtually see the horse frothing on the mouth, flames flickering throughout. The strings have been at their warmest, the woodwinds at turns verdant and menacing. The entire 15-minute piece was completely lucid and tightly managed. That is the extent of efficiency you need to hear out of your music director.
To shut the present, after intermission, the large display was hung behind the orchestra as we watched a silent black-and-white movie to accompany “Transfigured Night time.” British filmmaker Neita Jones’ projections, in atmospherics and with a pair of actors, principally in silhouette, amplified the wordless story, primarily based on a poem by Richard Dehmel: whereas strolling within the woods on a chilly, bracing evening, a girl confesses to her lover that she’s pregnant after informal intercourse with a stranger. The D minor anxiousness of this fraught second is resolved with rosier D Main as the person replies that their love will make the kid his personal.
Jones’ movie included Dehmel’s poem, the phrases (in German and English) projected to coincide with the dramatic shifts within the music. Just a few live-action pictures have been equally efficient. As we watched concertmaster David Coucheron dig deep into his violin, we noticed the identical scene, in ghostly type, up on the display. All of it labored, heightening the feelings of Schoenberg’s intoxicating music, blurring the current with the everlasting, evening with day, feeling with logic. (My one disappointment got here close to the top, after we unnecessarily noticed the couple’s enticing faces, which drained a little bit of the universality from the idea.)
We don’t hear quite a lot of Schoenberg’s music in these elements. After we do, it usually leaves an amazing impression, and Stutzmann’s studying had all of it. Scored for giant string sections — no winds, no percussion — the music revels within the composer’s twin obsessions, with earthy, autumnal Brahms and free-floating, chromatic Wagner. The ASO pushed and pulled on the musical expressiveness, with splendidly hallucinatory depth. The half-hour handed as if in a dream. This, too, is what we demand from our music director.
So it’s curious that Stutzmann’s ASO tenure is off to such an uneven begin.
Her program opened with Brahms’ Third Symphony which, below Stutzmann’s baton Friday night, sounded as under-rehearsed and haphazardly interpreted as the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on Thursday final week.
The opening actions of the Brahms refused to gel, even with notable particular person contributions, particularly from the woodwinds. A little bit of ragged enjoying isn’t an enormous deal if the interpretation is persuasive. However there was an absence of unity on stage, with some awkward transitions and a slight, looming sense of uncertainty. Maybe everybody continues to be getting accustomed to one another, albeit on this core repertoire.
The symphony’s third motion, in amber hues and touched with melancholy, is as emotionally opaque but stirring as something the composer wrote. Right here it lacked the gravitas we often hear, partly as a result of it felt so episodic. Sitting within the principal horn chair instead was Ryan Little, who holds the primary chair with the Naples Philharmonic in Florida. Within the outstanding horn solo, Little proved a wonderful participant, his phrasing clean and flowing, an extended legato arc of melody — however at odds with the place Stutzmann gave the impression to be going.
The orchestra’s cohesion and vitality got here collectively higher within the finale, in elements, though there was nonetheless an absence of readability within the imaginative and prescient. However nobody needs to be shocked if the general enjoying of the Brahms improved in subsequent performances over the identical weekend. Does that inform us the opening-night live performance was, in impact, handled as a costume rehearsal?
Surprisingly, there was a smattering of applause after every motion, in violation of (generally mindless) live performance corridor etiquette. This implies the present wasn’t promoting in addition to hoped, so the auditorium was “papered” with free tickets — not essentially a nasty factor. Many of those classical-music neophytes will possible benefit from the present; a number of of them will return on their very own.
Pierre Ruhe was the founding government director and editor of ArtsATL. He’s been a critic and cultural reporter for the Washington Put up, London’s Monetary Instances and the Atlanta Journal-Structure, and was director of inventive planning for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He’s publications director of Early Music America.