Stern set a brisk tempo for the nearly omnipresent “Festive Overture,” which led to a frenzied clarinet solo on the main theme, with principal clarinet Laura Ardan swiftly and adeptly dispatching the vertiginous melody. The Shostakovich is an apt opener for nearly any concert, and it is still magnificent when played well, but the piece was particularly welcome as an introduction to the Medtner concerto.
During the concerto, Hamelin handled the pointy melodies with a nearly percussive approach, in the next instance, issuing liquescent chromatic passages by barely even touching the keyboard. Hamelin’s performance, full of spellbinding technique and beautiful musicality, was stirring, but the entire performance fell victim to comparison. Stern and the ASO’s performance of the Tchaikovsky took all the air out of the room.
Stern is a dynamic force on the podium, conducting with exaggerated gestures and forceful mannerisms, truly exerting all his energy during the performance. During the curtain call, he looked positively wiped out, gingerly moving toward the center of the stage, as if he couldn’t possibly summon the strength to duplicate his masterful Tchaikovsky performance. But as he took his bow, he gave the audience a bright smile, and his wariness seemed to lift. Saturday is another day.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Michael Stern and Marc-André Hamelin
8 p.m. March 9. Additional performance at 8 p.m. March 11. $25-$94. Casual Friday performance at 6 p.m. March 10. $25. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000,