ASO’s Coucheron the standout on a night of stellar performances

Climbing assuredly to the upper region of his instrument, violinist David Coucheron lightly, delicately unfurled a vertiginous series of notes that hung in the air, cutting through the sparse accompaniment laid down by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Coucheron, the ASO’s concertmaster, soon left the shadowy, atmospheric filigree in the opening movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 to dive breathlessly into the madcap second movement, sawing away passionately at unending lines of sixteenth notes.

Through it all, the featured soloist retained a casual mastery of both his instrument and the material, treating every note equally with his deep, resonant tone.

Last season, in a February performance of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Coucheron displayed the same aggressive self-assurance, and he played the arguably trickier Prokofiev concerto with a breathtaking proficiency. Though at times he looked poised to pull ahead from the orchestra, breaking free from his accompaniment to dart and dash his way through the piece, the ensemble provided a reliable, stable base for his exploration of the thorny composition.

While the Prokofiev seemed light and fun, the rest of the evening featured compositions characterized by the creep of foreboding dissonance. In the first piece of the evening, the tightly wound “Flourish With Fireworks” by Oliver Knussen, flashes of tone color rose and fell from the orchestra. These pointillistic splashes of color, expressed as piercing staccatos in the horns and clipped pizzicatos in the strings, were passed around the orchestra atop an undercurrent of unrest. The composition features numerous, layered moving parts, and Music Director Robert Spano kept a tight and orderly hold of the music.

The ASO is still swelling back to its pre-lockout size, and “Prometheus, Poem of Fire” by Alexander Scriabin calls for a significantly enlarged orchestra. At Spano’s request, ASO bassist Michael Kurth slimmed down the original orchestration, cutting out a few instrumental parts he deemed “practically superfluous,” according to the program notes. In the end, Kurth jettisoned a few redundant woodwind parts, cut the number of horns in half and made a few more minute adjustments. These changes didn’t detract from the emotional punch of Scriabin’s music. Performed with the help of pianist Elizabeth Pridgen, another soloist pulled from the ASO’s ranks, the ensemble presented an entrancing performance of a challenging piece of music.

Spano closed Thursday’s performance, an utterly captivating top-to-bottom evening of music, with the familiar, vaguely unsettling Igor Stravinsky Suite from “The Firebird.” In the thrilling work, the undercurrent of dissonance heard throughout the concert ultimately resolves in a group of closing celebratory chords sung out from the horn section, expressing hope and confidence for tomorrow.


Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with soloist David Coucheron. 8 p.m. Nov. 10. Additional performance at 8 p.m. Nov. 12. $37-$89. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000,