But the work, which requires the soloist to play almost nonstop, was Thibaudet’s moment. Perhaps his talents could be better put to work on weightier material, but it seems petty to deny him a chance to show off. He played without a score.
The concerto was preceded by Jean Sibelius’ tone poem “Finlandia.” Written in 1899 as Russia was beginning to clamp down on Finland, it is a stirring nationalistic plea for solidarity against oppression. It was the perfect foil for the Khachaturian work. Both pieces used folk material, but only “Finlandia” soared to make a genuine point. Spano gave it every bit of operatic intensity he could find.
The concert concluded with Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 1,” written just before “Finlandia,” but quite different in style. It is a work of great extremes, often quite dramatic and bold, that grabs you and takes you on a Nordic roller-coaster ride. The plaintive clarinet solo that opens the work was expressively performed by Laura Ardan. Then, as the main allegro energico theme arrived in the brass, we felt the power of the whole orchestra.
Standing ovations have become an automatic ritual at Atlanta concerts, robbing them of meaning (like giving all students A’s). Still, at this concert the ovations seemed more spontaneous and enthusiastic than usual.
ASO in concert :
8 tonight. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-4800, www.atlantasymphony .org.