Atlanta Symphony makes a strong showing at the Kravis Center

By David Fleshler

Kazem Abdullah conducted the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in music of Farrenc, Beethoven and Sibelius Friday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

The Kravis Center’s years of rich classical programming have brought excellent and mediocre orchestras to the West Palm Beach hall’s stage.

One of the excellent ones performed Friday evening, as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra played a concert dominated by the music of Beethoven and Sibelius. The orchestra’s tone was big and full-bodied, with sonorous playing in winds and brass, all with a sense of style, drama and finesse.

Led by the American conductor and former New World Symphony fellow Kazem Abdullah, who currently lives in Nürnberg, Germany, the orchestra opened with the Overture No. 2 of Louise Farrenc, an early Romantic French composer whose works are being heard more frequently. After a dramatic minor-key opening, the piece turned jovial and zipped along with the verve of a Rossini overture but with greater symphonic weight.

The young Israeli pianist Tom Borrow took the stage to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. After the opening solo, some of his initial passagework sounded tentative and blurry, but that seemed to disappear with the rest of the performance. While this may be Beethoven’s sunniest piano concerto, it has its share of shadows—such as a soft mysterious section over a pedal point in the lower strings, and Borrow, Abdullah and the orchestra extracted every bit of drama, with an energetic release in the fortissimo passages that followed. Borrow brought excitement, weight and virtuosity to the cadenza.

Tom Borrow performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 Friday night.

In the brief Andante, he played with delicacy and an almost Chopinesque dreaminess in a part that contrasted with the gruff, glowering string motifs in the orchestra. 

The Rondo opens with one of those simple but instantly memorable melodies that Beethoven produced so often. Playing with a light but sure touch, Borrow brought ready articulation to the recurring tune. As the music deepened and became more dramatic, he delivered a grand and sweeping performance in passages that looked forward to the piano music that would be produced later in the 19th century.

For the second half, the orchestra turned to Sibelius, performing three of his best-known works and his final symphony. 

The musicians gave a full-throated performance of Finlandia, opening with hard-edged brassy menace, with vivacious string playing and a sense of forward momentum. Another Sibelius staple, Valse Triste, came off in a warmly romantic performance, with soft-edged string playing and a rhythmic sensitivity that gave the sad melody an extra note of vulnerability.

At first Sibelius hesitated to call his Symphony No. 7 a symphony, since the swirling one-movement work might have been more appropriately labeled a symphonic fantasy or tone poem. Abdullah and the orchestra gave an intense performance of Sibelius’ last symphony, with moments of lofty nobility and icy drama.

There was luminous wind playing over tremolo strings, an intense melody in viola and cello sections, rapid dance-like playing in the strings and other moments of distinguished playing. The trombone entrance was majestic, when the clouds part and the brass instrument’s broad melody soared over the orchestra. Abdullah drew maximum energy from the orchestra guiding the ensemble as the music propelled through its final crescendo and abrupt coda.

The Kravis Center’s classical series continues 8 p.m. January 23 with the Cleveland Orchestra performing Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique.” kravis.org.

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One Response to “Atlanta Symphony makes a strong showing at the Kravis Center”

  1. Posted Jan 14, 2023 at 8:25 am by PJB

    Thank you for noticing our programming! Atlanta was sublime last night. There will be no more mediocre orchestras in the future, you can be sure!

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