Violinist Augustin Hadelich stood on stage at Symphony Hall Thursday night as an arena rock and roll superstar, releasing an overpowering five-minute cadenza on his instrument at the end of the third movement of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1.
Hadelich agilely ran his fingers through complex intervals of notes, ascending to the instrument’s crystalline peaks without sacrificing tonal clarity or power. In those brief moments, in front of a silent symphony of musicians, Hadelich wielded his axe, a 1723 Stradivarius, as a guitar god handles his Stratocaster, spinning a complex, emotional story on his violin.
The cadenza appears right before Shostakovich’s finale, toward the end of a piece packed with brilliantly emotive solo violin writing, most of it at a low dynamic range. This made the magnetizing playing of Hadelich’s cadenza even more stunning.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra patrons already know Hadelich is the most thrilling guest violinist the symphony brings to Atlanta, so his technical mastery and luminous tone should be no surprise. His performance of Jean Sibelius’ Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra with the orchestra two years ago was similarly jaw-dropping. Back then, he responded to numerous curtain calls with an encore of Niccolo Paganini’s Caprice No. 5; this time around, he unearthed the Caprice No. 21, taking time to gorgeously dance through the double-stops and other chordal playing amidst the piece’s furious barrages of sixteenth notes.
During the first movement of the Shostakovich, which is full of dynamic leaps played at a stage whisper by the violin, the ASO is in accompaniment mode. Starting with a murky, ominous dotted-eight note figure in the cello and bass section, the accompaniment never quite rises to a dull roar. The violin soloist leads the ensemble in this movement, and under guest conductor Edo de Waart, the musicians were a sympathetic, unified presence.
The rhythmically challenging second movement of the concerto, where the symphony sheds its pure accompanist role and engages in a musical dialogue with the solo violin, had initial challenges. In this folk-tinged movement, it took a while for the orchestra and soloist to establish a connection. This section whirls by at a feverish pace, foreshadowing a joyous, but quick, fourth movement.
Rachmaninoff swallowed up the second half of the program, as De Waart led the ASO in the composer’s expansive, hourlong second symphony. The utterly demonstrative symphony gave the full complement of musicians an opportunity to play at their emotive, expressive best. As an ensemble, they created touching music, led by the powerful string section. The woodwinds got their due as well: Yhe third movement commenced with a clarinet solo, ably performed by principal clarinetist Laura Ardan, and also a sanguine mini-duet between Elizabeth Koch Tiscione on oboe and Emily Brebach on English horn.
Amid a two-season exploration of Bernstein and Beethoven, Thursday’s program featured works by neither composer. Though comparisons among the two Bs, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich abound, a tiny break in the usual programming, which will occur from time to time until the final concert of the seasons-spanning celebration, was quite welcome.