If anything has been learned from this concert season of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra it is that guest conductors can energize the orchestra and encourage, coax, cajole or otherwise motivate it into performing at extraordinary levels. This season has shown that the ASO is capable of performances that are of the first order, something that was demonstrated again this weekend with guest conductor Carlo Rizzi who led the orchestra in an auspicious Atlanta debut. Rizzi is a well-established operatic conductor, but he is less known for symphonic performances. Based on his leadership here, he might want to consider broadening his concert hall horizons. 

Carlo Rizzi © Tessa Traeger
Carlo Rizzi
© Tessa Traeger

The program consisted of three works, the newest being a century old. This was not a daring program, but it certainly appealed to the audience, as evidenced by attendance and response. Prokofiev’s First Symphony of 1917 is, as suggested by its title “Classical”, inspired by the works of Haydn, and to a lesser extent those of Mozart. It has a traditional four-movement format and is a humorous homage to the giants of Viennese classicism. In spite of occasional Prokofiev dissonances it is largely a very tonal piece. The first movement is in sonata-allegro form and was played here with a brisk tempo – an engaging way to grab the audience’s attention at the concert’s beginning. The second movement, Larghetto, contains wonderful lyrical passage for the violins, whose precision and golden timbre in this performance was remarkable. The third movement, Gavotta, is very Mozartian, and Ricci provided the needed refinement to capture the mood and air of Prokofiev’s elegant writing. The rousing finale was full of energy and demonstrated how extraordinary the ASO can sound. This exuberant performance of Prokofiev’s most frequently played symphony was a crowd pleaser and Ricci was called back twice to take a bow. 

Mozart’s 1777 Oboe Concerto was introduced with a short video featuring oboe soloist Elizabeth Koch Tiscione being interviewed about the work by ASO Associate Principal Trumpet Michael Tiscione. It was nicely produced with just the right amount of husband-wife banter. The concerto is considered one of the most important in the oboe repertoire and it is a great example of the composer’s compositional style – lean and refined. Koch Tiscione is the principal oboist of the ASO and is consistently one of its best players. With her instrument she creates a consistently warm, full-bodied sound. The concerto’s first movement, Allegro aperto, includes a cadenza that highlighted the soloist’s fine musical sensibility as well as her technical skill. The second movement, Adagio ma non troppo, is much like an operatic aria, with the oboe taking the soprano role and the orchestra playing a secondary accompaniment role. It was obvious that the maestro and the soloist had worked out this balance to near perfection. The final movement (Rondo, Allegretto) is a high-spirited finale where both the soloist and orchestra are on equal footing. Koch Tisicone played this with a joyfulness that demonstrated excellent musicality. 

The final work, Beethoven’s Second Symphony of 1802 is generally upbeat and does not portend the greatness he was to achieve, for example, in his Third Symphony. While the first movement begins with a slow, almost mournful introduction, it is followed by an energy-infused Allegro con brio. Rizzi led this movement with great attention to its dynamics, which seemed to multiply its inherent upbeat spirit. This performance was anything but lackluster, in contrast to the recent performance of the “Eroica”. The second movement’s Romantic lyricism was carefully unwrapped as was the vigor found in the dance-like third movement Scherzo. The finale, Allegro molto, blossomed with dynamism after a finely sculpted introduction.

Maestro Rizzi brought his own kind of spirit to the podium, propelling the ASO to deliver a fine performance. He attended to the fine inner details of each piece of music, and to their overall structures so that their momentum never flagged. This may be due, in part, to his extensive experience in opera, but whatever the reason, his leadership brought great energy and dynamism to the program. This was a very strong concert, made even stronger by the fine solo work of Elizabeth Koch Tiscione.