Guest conductor puts together pleasing program
This was distinguished pianism, and it inspired the orchestra to give of its best.
The art of symphonic program-making has become increasingly staid and formulaic over the past 20 years, with little effort given to thematic links or complementary contrasts of mood. Veteran conductor Franz-Paul Decker, who made his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra debut Thursday at age 72, demonstrated that it's possible to assemble an ingenious and thematically relevant program, even when sticking to familiar composers from Germany and Austria. For a refreshingly novel opening, Decker chose three of Weber's least-known overtures ("Abu Hassan," "Turandot" and "Peter Schmoll"), all receiving their first ASO performances. These colorful pieces made a wonderful lead-in to Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber," which takes some of Weber's most charming runes (including one from the "Turandot" overture) and transforms them into a work as playful as the title is ponderous.
Unfortunately, Decker did not find much sparkle or subtlety in any of these' works. Although the conductor obtained pleasing sounds from the orchestra (with particularly rich strings), there was little shaping or personality. Weber's overtures have seldom sounded so dull or the Hindemith so noisy and unimaginative.
After intermission, the mood turned much more serious. Passionate, too: a reminder that Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Turbulent emotions inform the outer movements of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, and even disturb the serenity of the central Romanza.
As soloist, Czech pianist Ivan Moravec supplied the strong profile that had been missing in Decker's conducting, He varied his bright, vibrant tone with subtle shadings, unfolding a thoughtful, expressive rendition that was by turns biting and eloquent. In short, this was distinguished pianism, and it inspired the orchestra to give of its best.
Mozart's 1785 concerto looks ahead to the overt emotionalism of the 19th-century romantic era, revealing its passions beneath a veneer of restraint. But the theme of romance took explicit, uninhibited shape in the concluding selection, a suite from "Der Rosenkavalier," Strauss' poignant opera about the ecstasy and heartache of love. Here at last Decker seemed in his element. From the orgasmic opening to the exultant close, the conductor fashioned an alert, affectionate, absorbing interpretation. The ASO sounded like it was having loads of fun.