Review: Osorio shines with Beethoven, ASO Chorus sublime

Jorge Federico Osorio strode to the center of the Symphony Hall stage Thursday like a man at home in his surroundings. The pianist has spent the past few weeks performing concerts with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra that stand together as an in-depth look into Beethoven's five-composition cycle of piano concertos. He presented the nearly 40-minute Piano Concerto No. 1 Thursday, and will perform the finale of his programmed cycle, Piano Concerto No. 4, next week.

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Playing the concertos from memory, in collaboration with conductors ranging from music director Robert Spano to Thursday's guest conductor Roberto Abbado, he's shown the piano pieces to be sweeping, grand flourishes of musical excitement.

Beethoven’s shimmering piano concertos are meant to be impressive and elicit cheers from the audience; they are also intensely musical and, at times, heartbreaking in their beauty. During his readings of four concertos, Osorio’s playing has remained buoyant and bubbly; he has expertly dispatched even the trickiest of Beethoven’s fingers-in-knots barrages of notes. A delight to hear every night, Osorio has given appropriate verve to each composition.

Thursday, this first-half performance of Beethoven’s first concerto paired with Mozart’s “Requiem.” Mozart died before completing work on the “Requiem,” but he left enough musical content behind for others to complete the masterpiece in his absence.

This concert was the first time Abbado’s edition of the Mozart score had been heard in the city. In its 2006 recording, the chorus performed a score edited by Robert Levin. Abbado’s edition — which uses pieces of Levin’s work, combined with other sources and the conductor’s own interpretation — could seem unfamiliar to “Requiem” listeners accustomed to more canonical versions of the score, but it may be difficult for casual listeners to pick out distinct differences.

While Osorio's Beethoven exploration is an important part of the season's offerings and Osorio has been the highlight of many of those concerts, most performances featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus overshadow everything else on the program. Thursday was no exception. Though the "Requiem" seems to be an ASO Chorus evergreen, the group hasn't sung Mozart's Mass since an unofficial concert in October 2014, which occurred, due to the protracted lockout, at Oglethorpe University with a reduced ensemble and under the baton of Richard Prior, Emory University's director of orchestral studies.

The most immediate comparison would be an ASO chorus performance of a very different "Requiem" during the first half of the season. With principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles leading the way, the combined ensemble rolled out Verdi's operatic "Requiem," a much flashier choral composition that makes wider use of a quartet of soloists. The Mozart work is largely given over to the chorus — and with the ASO Chorus, prepared by Norman Mackenzie, there never seems to be a criticism — with the guest singers given brief time to shine in solo, quartet and duet settings.

Soprano Jessica Rivera and tenor William Burden stood out in the array of guest soloists. Rivera, a frequent ASO collaborator, has a crystalline voice made more elegant by a ruddy, rich resonance. Burden, in solo and as part of vocal ensembles, sang with bright authority.

Abbado is a firecracker of a conductor, exuding intensity and deliberate attention in each movement. He's a familiar presence in Atlanta, but he hasn't led the ensemble since the closing months of the 2014-15 season. Making up for lost time, he returns to Symphony Hall next week to lead the orchestra in Schubert's Symphony No. 8 and Osorio's final Beethoven concerto performance.


Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Jorge Federico Osorio, Roberto Abbado

8 p.m. Feb. 8. Additional performances at 8 p.m. Feb. 10 and 3 p.m. Feb 11. $108. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000,