While Mahler's Seventh required some thinking and processing, Schumann's cello concerto, performed by guest artist Steven Isserlis on the first half of Thursday's program, was a visceral joy. A theatrical player, Isserlis wore this joy on his face and in his movements — at one break in the action, he even looked over at Coucheron with a "How lucky are we?" glance.
There’s a delicious harshness to his low notes, with his percussive attack giving the music a sandpaper grit. As he ascends, this grit washes away, but the depth and broadness remain. His tone is disarming — warm and inviting but with a taut, astringent edge.
For an encore, Isserlis chose an unaccompanied, introspective arrangement of “Song of the Birds” by Pablo Casals, which is based on a Catalan folk song. Isserlis cradled the simple melody, accented by vaporous arpeggios, with an exquisite tenderness. This was the polar opposite of his fiery, virtuosic Schumann performance, but it was no less impassioned or brilliant. The ASO on Thursday buffeted its ranks with myriad musicians for the highly publicized, and brilliant, Mahler, but in that simple encore, Isserlis stole the show.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
8 p.m. Nov. 9. Additional performance at 8 p.m. Nov. 11. $42-$107. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000, www.atlantasymphony.org.
IN OTHER MUSIC NEWS:
Sugarland reunited to play for the first time in five years on Nov. 8, 2017.