During the weekend of May 22nd, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a set of rare Spring pieces from composers Britten and Rachmaninoff. The performance began with the world premiere of Robert Pound’s Fanfare, which was dedicated to Robert Spano’s 10th season with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Pound, who is a Georgia native musician, has also served in the role of guest conductor for the Atlanta Symphony a number of times, having trained under the instruction of Spano for a number of years. His new fanfare, which is three minutes in duration, is called “Heartenings, charged with invented time” and is inspired from the work of Atlanta poet named James Dickey.
The fanfare is heavily laden with thunderclap drums and bird chirps, which evokes imagery of the flapping of bird wings. Although the piece is written with a number of chaotic chords and progressions, there is a calm tune that emerges from the clamoring orchestra.
The orchestra continued the evening Rachmaninoff’s Spring Cantata, which is a 15 minute long piece designed for a baritone singer, chorus and orchestra. It is a rather obscure piece of music inspired by Nikolai Nekrasov’s poem, “The Green Noise.” The music tells the audience a tale of a couple who is snowed into their peasant hut for the winter, and a husband who details his wife’s confession of infidelity and his subsequent plan to murder her in revenge.
While orchestra paints a beautiful picture of the Russian spring, and the chorus sings in the background about “the green noise, the noise of spring!” the furious husband, portrayed by the baritone singer, sings of the “song in the forest, in the meadow.” After the beauty of the scene overtakes him, he lets the knife that he has fall from his hands. Finally, the baritone sings a beautiful coda with the chorus, “Love, while you still can love; Endure, while you still can endure.” At the finale, the music comes to a gorgeous rest as the strings create a moment of serenity.
The orchestra then performed another rarity, Britten’s Spring Symphony, which is an orchestral song of soloists and the chorus. The piece is a celebration of the beauty of the transition between winter and spring. The piece also is based on the works of English poets, such as Thomas Nashe and John Milton.
Many of the songs within the suite have a very distinct type of sound, for instance “The Merry Cuckoo,” which is created from trumpet fanfares and the words of Edmund Spenser sung by a tenor, Anthony Dean Griffey. The piece “Spring, the Sweet Spring,” which is from a Nashe poem, has a peculiar woodwind part to support the singers in the form of chirping birds.
Finally, the woodwinds backed by the beautiful sounds of a tuba make a beautifully colorful support for “The Driving Boy” which was performed by Jessica Rivera, and the boys and girls of the Gwinnett Young Singers. The evening closes as mezzo Kelley O’Connor, who has performed with the ASO in the past, sang “Welcome Maids of Honor,” after the poem created by Robert Herrick.
The performance as a whole was entirely gorgeous, and in accordance with the impending rapture of the evening on May 22, 2011, it was almost as if the beautiful noise of the orchestra was preparing the audience for a heavenly ascent.