Review: ASO hits high notes under baton of Harth-Bedoya for López, Prokofiev, Dvořák

Under guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the ASO performed one of its strongest shows of the season. (Photos by Jeff Roffman)
Under guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the ASO performed one of its strongest shows of the season. (Photos by Jeff Roffman)
Under guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the ASO performed one of its strongest shows of the season. (Photos by Jeff Roffman)
Under guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the ASO performed one of its strongest shows of the season. (Photos by Jeff Roffman)

On Thursday evening at Symphony Hall, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, led by guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, performed music by López, Prokofiev and Dvořák. Pianist Vadym Kholodenko was the guest soloist. The program will be repeated on Saturday evening at Symphony Hall.

The concert opened with “Perú negro” (2012) by Peruvian-born composer Jimmy López, commissioned for the centennial season of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra by Harth-Bedoya, who is currently in his 16th season as that orchestra’s music director. (ArtsATL published a preview and interview with López earlier this week.)

Since autumn of 2013, Harth-Bedoya has also served as chief conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in Oslo, with which he recorded a complete disc of López’s orchestral music, including “Perú negro,” released just this past August by the Harmonia Mundi label.

Like López, Harth-Bedoya was born and raised in Lima, Peru. He most recently appeared with the ASO as guest conductor in October 2013, in a performance of music by Respighi, Lasser and Prokofiev. 

“Perú negro” opens with a bold four-note theme — E, B, B-flat, G — which is used throughout and serves as a kind of reference to Harth-Bedoya, to whom the work is dedicated. It also draws upon five traditional Afro-Peruvian folk songs as sources. But rather than a folkloristic essay, López has incorporated those musical materials into his own compositional language — much like Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók did with their Hungarian folk-music heritage.

Pianist Vadym Kholodenko was impressive in his ASO debut.
Pianist Vadym Kholodenko was impressive in his ASO debut.

The work’s complex Afro-Peruvian rhythms build in activity as momentum develops over a broadly arching, convincing musical architecture, climaxing in a frenzy of activity in the final section. Nonetheless, “Perú negro” is quite an approachable piece for the audience, rather fun but not lightweight.

Despite the limiting fact that “Perú negro” requires a rather large orchestra with 17 woodwinds, 11 brass, full complement of strings and an array of percussion instruments, it is a work that deserves to find its way into the standard orchestral repertoire of the 21st century.

Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko is making his ASO debut with this week’s performances of the Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 26 by Sergei Prokofiev, completed in 1921 and the most popular of the composer’s five piano concertos.

Kholodenko also has a close processional relationship with Harth-Bedoya, having recorded with the conductor and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra both the Piano Concerto of Grieg and Piano Concerto No. 2 of Camille Saint-Saëns for Harmonia Mundi, released last year. Kholodenko and Harth-Bedoya have also been at work recording the complete cycle of Prokofiev’s piano concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Kholodenko resides in Fort Worth, a convenience of geography in their collaborations.

Kholodenko’s playing is well-suited to Prokofiev’s modernistic style — sparklingly clean, technically astute, and yet sensitive when called upon by the score and without excessive gesture or unnecessary bravado. He is a fine pianist we should hope to hear in concert again soon.

Afterward, Kholodenko came back to the stage for a charmingly appropriate encore, the Chopin-esque Prelude No. 11 in B major by Alexander Scriabin, from his 24 Preludes, Op. 11.

Following intermission came Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7. The ASO’s last subscription series performances were in January 2014, though the musicians later performed it independently as part of a self-produced pair of back-to-back concerts during that fall’s lockout.

The Symphony No. 7 is arguably Dvořák’s greatest, most ambitious of his nine symphonies, even if not as popular as the ninth. It represents the composer at his best. It is more deliberately cosmopolitan in style than his earlier ones although, the composer himself declared, it carries a clear message of tenacious resistance to political oppression, and intense feelings of patriotism for his Czech heritage.

This performance under Harth-Bedoya was a secure and attention-holding rendering, with a satisfyingly good dash of personality. The entire concert, for that matter, proved a bright spot in this season’s offerings to date. It may not be the most high-profile concert of the ASO season, but if Saturday’s performance is on a par with Thursday’s, it will certainly be a “go to” concert not to miss.

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