Funded by a grant from Mr Ken Meltzer, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's program annotator,  the  musicians of the ASO perform a brief chamber music concert just before the evening's full program. These concerts happen about four times a season and are designed so that patrons sit on the Symphony Hall stage facing the musicians, who in turn face the patrons.  The first work on this program was Paganini's Caprice no. 2 for solo violin  played by Anastasia Agapova, who played with enthusiasm if not total technical control. This was followed by an arrangement, by violinist Justin Bruns, of music by Boccherini and Berio that featured two violins, a viola and two cellos. This was a foretaste of the Berio-Boccherini mash-up that was programmed for later in the evening.

Sergej Krylov © Mary Slepkova
Sergej Krylov
© Mary Slepkova

The guest conductor for this series of concerts is Roberto Abbado, who usually is in Atlanta about once-a-year. He is a favorite of  Atlanta audiences  and he energizes the ASO musicians. There are high expectations for him, in part, because he comes from that deep Abbado musical gene pool. The program had an Italian theme, even if one of the works was composed by a Frenchman and one by a German. In keeping with the multi-culturalism of the program, the violin soloist was a Russian. The first work was Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, which uses themes from his opera Benvenuto Cellini. The performance started out a bit shaky with the brass being too loud. But soon, things were on track and all was redeemed by masterful English horn playing by Emily Breback.

Next violin soloist Sergej Krylov attacked the Paganini Concerto no. 5 in A minor. The first and last movements are dazzling showcases for the violin and require a myriad of technical skills, such as left hand pizzicati, double stops and harmonics, including some on the E-string with the finger placed between the bottom of the fingerboard and the bridge. The good news is that sometimes the focus on technique can actually be musical. The orchestral accompaniment in this concerto is not particularly creative and does not demand much virtuosity.

The second movement is gentle and lyrical and gives the soloist time to regroup and show how to make the violin sing. Obviously this piece is designed to be a showy display of violin technical achievement and Krylov was up to the challenge. He played brilliantly even though there were occasional intonation and bowing issues, but those were so minor that they did not mar an otherwise incredible performance. The audience showed plenty of love for Krylov, and he and Abbado each took five curtain calls. Abbado, in humble fashion, tried to take the focus off of himself during the bows, but Krylov would have none of it. Finally Krylov returned to the stage for an encore, playing the famous Paganini Caprice no. 24 in A minor and he again nailed it with his technical and musical skills. And the audience went wild again! As one of the ASO musicians said post-concert, "this guy is the real deal".

The second half of the program began with Luciano Berio's Quattro versioni orignali "Ritirata notturna di Madrid". Berio, who was an important figure in serialism and electronic music, is not often heard in US concert halls. Berio was asked by La Scala to compose a concert overture and he chose Boccherini's String Quartet in C Major, nicknamed Night Music of the Streets of Madrid, for his inspiration. The work begins with piano snare drums, which are then followed by delightful melodies introduced by a violin duet. Unfortunately, in this performance these delicate themes were a bit overshadowed by the snares. The music then slowly begins building with additional instruments joining in the festivities.  Eventually the piece becomes rather like a march played by the full orchestra. After the grand crescendo is reached, the music begins a slow and steady decrescendo. It is as if pedestrians are experiencing the Doppler effect while moving toward and then away from the sounds of a busy Italian town square. It is a charming piece nicely played by the ASO.

The final work was Mendelssohn's familiar Symphony no. 4 in A major "Italian". Maestro Abbado took the first movement at quite a clip. The violins really dug in their bows and it was an exciting ride. The second movement, marked Andante con moto, provided an opportunity for the ASO winds to demonstrate their warmth and subtlety. The violins were silky in the legato sections. The French horns were also at their best, with nary an ill wind. The final movement Saltarello was taken at a brisk pace with some really fine and precise staccato violin playing. At their best the ASO strings sound silky and Abbado capitalized on this. Overall this was a very satisfying performance.

*****