Review: Beethoven’s Second Symphony pure joy in guest conductor’s hands

With help from emotive guest conductor Carlo Rizzithe Atlanta Symphony Orchestra ended its first season-long study of Beethoven Thursday night with a flourish, presenting audiences with a masterfully demonstrative reading of the composer's Symphony No. 2.

Though the final concert of the season occurs in June, this weekend's concerts serve as the last chance to hear Beethoven until the fall; the ASO's May performances are dominated by Leonard Bernstein's operetta "Candide," which runs for two weeks in the middle of the month, and music director Robert Spano hasn't programmed any Beethoven during the season's closing concerts.

So far, the ASO has performed a little more than half of the Beethoven symphonies, saving four works for next spring. One of the most well-known, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, paired with Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms," is set for April 2019.

Rizzi is probably best known as an opera conductor from his tenure with the Welsh National Opera, and it’s not a stretch to perceive a vibrant drama in both his conducting and the music he brings out of the symphony. This was especially true of the Beethoven symphony. On the podium, he has a jolly, avuncular presence, encouraging the musicians with expressive movements and a smiling face.

The concert began with the brief, lovely “Classical” symphony by Prokofiev, the first movement of which begins with verdant strings, which set the tone for the rest of the piece. Prokofiev’s bite-sized movements are refreshing and light, and with guest conductor Rizzi at the helm, the ASO moved through the movements with verve. The composition’s final movement has a furious power, but if anything, the ASO played it with a laid-back drive, a studied coolness that gave the music intensity but didn’t make it feel overpowering.

Sandwiched between Beethoven and Prokofiev, longtime ASO musician, and principal oboe, Elizabeth Koch Tiscione dispatched Mozart's Oboe Concerto with exuberance. While the ASO presents an extremely unified and well-blended ensemble sound, it's always impressive to hear the musicians in a solo setting. Koch Tiscione has called the ASO home for a decade, and her light, pliant tone — reedy and resonant in the low notes, sparkling and clear at the top of her register — is part of the reason why she's a prized member of the ensemble.

As with any concerts during a long season, the ASO’s Beethoven performances have been led by more than a handful of guest conductors. Out of the five symphonies presented this season, Spano has led only one of them. Some stylistic predilections have emerged among the conductors, but through it all, the ASO has functioned as an unwavering Beethoven machine, presenting crisp, studied performances that allow emotion and Romanticism to bubble to the surface. These aren’t hermetic readings of compositions by a long-dead composer, and while the music might not be as daring as some of the new composers Spano has recently programmed, in the ASO’s hands, Beethoven rivals these new works in pure excitement and vigor.


Carlo Rizzi with the ASO

8 p.m. April 26. Additional performances at 8 p.m. April 28 and 3 p.m. April 29. $22-$99. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000,

8 p.m. April 27. $25-$55. Bailey Performance Center, Kennesaw State University, 488 Prillaman Way, Kennesaw.

AJC’s new podcast: accessAtlanta 

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In last week’s episode, listen to Robert Spano talk about his career with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with AJC features reporter Bo Emerson. It is a revealing interview with the music director, whose career has spanned more than three decades.

>> accessAtlanta PODCAST: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's Musical Director, Robert Spano