Atlanta Symphony uses Groundhog Day for Schumann’s hopeful “Spring Symphony”

Johannes Moser
Arts ATL

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On Thursday evening at Symphony Hall, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a concert of music by R. Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Schumann, led by guest conductor Jun Märkl and featuring cellist Johannes Moser as guest soloist. The program will be repeated on Saturday evening at Symphony Hall.


Ah yes, it was Groundhog Day, but regardless of what predictions any Marmota monax may have conjured for the upcoming six weeks, the ASO’s program seemed clearly bent on looking toward the advent of spring.


Märkl and the ASO opened the concert with the orchestral suite “Le Bourgeois gentilhomme” by Richard Strauss. The suite was written as incidental music for Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s revival and revision of Molière’s 1670 comic play of the same name which would also introduce a one-act opera by Hofmannsthal and Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos. The combination proved unsuccessful, and the two works were revised and went their separate ways. Strauss added more music to the play and then extracted the orchestral suite of nine movements, choosing not to include some of the music he’d composed for the stage work.


For those whose familiarity with Richard Strauss’s music is limited to large, heady orchestral tone poems from the 1890s like “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” and “Also sprach Zarathustra” (in particular the opening “Sunrise” fanfare used in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey), the neoclassical style of his “Le Bourgeois gentilhomme” may come as a surprise, with its much smaller orchestra and Baroque allusions. In fact, three of the suite’s movements, nos 5 to 7, are based on music by 17th-century composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, who wrote the music for Molière’s original comédie-ballet.


Märkl’s energy switch was on from the moment he appeared on stage — and perhaps well before. He does not slack or hesitate on the podium. His quick baton and conducting gestures only give enough time between movements to allow the space to be a marker, as opposed to a pause, and the musicians must have a clear sense of readiness to jump right into the next movement.