Things worked much better for the remaining movements, both gentle and reflective for the most part, and here performed with considerable precision. There is a soloist, designated as either a boy soprano or a countertenor, and the ASO has performed it both ways. In this case we heard a fine young countertenor, John Holiday, whose voice soared through the hall. He has a clear, natural sound, without the reedy quality often associated with countertenors.
Spano’s intense approach to the piece resembles Bernstein’s own, and this is likely as authentic a reading as you’ll hear today.
The big work on the menu was also the most obscure, William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast.” Written in 1931, it was quite popular for a few decades but now gets performed only occasionally. The ASO and chorus made a strong case for it.
“Feast” is a fascinating choral work that deals with the Israelites during their captivity in Babylon. It’s quite vivid, full of pagan celebrations, terrors, lamentations and, ultimately, the triumph of the Israelites. As with everything on this program, the music is conservative but highly expressive. It really does showcase the qualities that distinguish the ASO chorus: its finely honed unity, the clear sound of the sopranos and its ability to sing the most difficult material with dispatch.
Brett Polegato, the baritone soloist, has such fine diction that the projected titles were superfluous. He sang with near-perfect intonation and a fine dramatic sense. And Spano was in his element, piloting the massive ensemble like a finely tuned Ferrari: powerful, elegant, precise and sometimes a little boisterous.
Oct. 18. One additional performance at 8 p.m. Oct 20. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-733-5000. www.atlantasymphony.org