But Bernstein’s 20-minute choral work can’t be fully realized without a talented orchestra. The violins opened the third movement with a stunning fog of sound – swirling, teeming strings creating a vibrant dissonance. The movement also featured pristine cello playing, led by acting principal Daniel Laufer.
After intermission, Søndergård approached Beethoven’s Ninth as a breathtakingly quick romp through very well-known music. Perhaps the added speed was an attempt to inject liveliness into music that is well known by most symphony-goers. While the first movement floated by on shimmering strings, Søndergård’s hasty tempos marred the second movement, which unspooled with a frenetic urgency that prized tempo before musicality.
The whippoorwill speed of the second movement foreshadowed the famous choral closing—“Ode to Joy”—sung handsomely by the ASO Chorus. All the spine-tingling, goose-bump moments were there, and the chorus sang well, but the tempos made the last movement feel, on the whole, more like a foot race than a revelation.
In the final movement, the array of soloists—soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella, tenor Thomas Cooley and bass Andrea Mastroni—ably handled the vertiginous pace, but during ensemble quartet passages, it sounded like they were teetering on the edge of musical collapse. The guest artists fared much better in duet and solo settings.
As interpreters, many of the ASO’s guest conductors that have led the ensemble in recent memory give fairly straight-forward readings. Søndergård led a transcendent combined ensemble beautifully in the Bernstein, but his pacing in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony proved that an increase in musical velocity does not correlate to increased musical satisfaction.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
8 p.m. April 11. Additional performance at 8 p.m. tonight and 3 p.m. tomorrow. Sold Out. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000, atlantasymphony.org.