For the last several weeks, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concerts have been a sell-out. Featuring all of the piano concertos of Beethoven, the popular series of concerts has also benefited from the residency of soloist Jorge Federico Osorio, who has shown both a prodigious talent and memory for the music. This weekend’s three concerts also feature the very popular Mozart Requiem. The locally well-liked Roberto Abbado, a frequent ASO guest-conductor, returned to lead this program.

Roberto Abbado © Miro Zagnoli
Roberto Abbado
© Miro Zagnoli

The 1801 piano concerto was greatly influenced by Mozart and Haydn, yet Beethoven added his own unmistakable and unique harmonic shifts. At its heart it is in traditional sonata form. The first movement Allegro con brio occupies nearly half of the concerto and provides ample opportunity for pianistic showmanship in the movement ending. Osorio continued to impress here, as he had in his previous Beethoven performances, with his transparent and elegant playing. The second movement Largo is in ternary form and showcases the composer’s prodigious ability at musical development. It is a very lyrical movement that was lushly warm in this performance. Osorio’s light, precise touch was complimented perfectly by a crisp orchestral accompaniment that never overwhelmed and matched the intensity of the piano nicely. The Rondo finale opens strongly with an upbeat theme in the piano, which then is picked up by the orchestra and eventually traded back and forth between solo and orchestra as it undergoes development. There are two short cadenzas and the movement ends with a quiet piano melody, which is soon overridden by a forceful orchestral finale.  This was a startlingly good performance. Because the stage was set up to accommodate the nearly 200-voice chorus to follow, the small-ish orchestra and piano were moved forward, which gave a pleasingly tight and integrated sound. Osorio plays every phrase as if it is the most important; it is a precise approach, yet in his hands very musical. Abbado led a sympathetic orchestral accompaniment that never was overbearing or aggressive; it was a nearly perfect match to Osorio’s refined playing style. Further, Osorio is very businesslike when he performs; there are no keyboard histrionics to distract, which further encourages a focus on the music and not on the performer. Abbado, too, has a very straight-forward conducting technique that is elegantly low-keyed.

The Mozart Requiem in D minor in some ways seems like a great leap forward into a more Romantic style for the composer. The melodies are warmer, longer and more flowing, and there seems to be decreased focus on thematic elegance. Yet the size of the orchestra required is still rather small and simple in comparison to what would follow. For all of this apparent progress, we know that the final version of the piece actually has many other hands and minds at work in it than just Mozart’s. Even in this Atlanta performance, the version played is one edited by the conductor himself. But authorship mysteries aside, the Requiem is mostly dominated by the chorus, with four soloists often signing as a quartet, and an orchestral approach that is rarely front-and-center. Even given these limitations, balances can and do become an issue. In this performance, one could see the ASO players playing furiously, but their sound was totally dominated by the 180-voice Atlanta Symphony Chorus. Similarly, there was a concert organ on stage, but it could never be heard above the massed forces. The four soloists were very good; mezzo Magdalena Wór and soprano Jessica Rivera sounded warm and smooth together, but Rivera’s voice is so clear, strong and beautiful that she could be heard above nearly everyone else, depending on the direction of her voice. Overall this was not an ideal performance by the highly skilled chorus, which here lacked subtlety and sang without restraint so that its musical partners were forced to play secondary roles. Great diction and articulation cannot make up for lack of restraint. Finally, the trombone in the Tuba mirum sounded slightly wobbly, and not authentically Mozartean.

The standout performance of the evening was the Beethoven piano concerto, due primarily to the great partnership between Osorio and Abbado, as well as the soloist’s highly skilled and sensitive performance. Mr. Osorio has been a most welcome soloist over the last few weeks in Atlanta.