Sir Donald Runnicles started off a masked Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto at a relaxed, affectionate gait that reflected the left-handed conductor's affection for the music and shaped the narrative so that the Orchestra's first-chair colleagues, Christina Smith and Elisabeth Remy Johnson, who played with similarly relaxed ease and soaring sense of beauty, were set up perfectly for Carl Reinecke's at times extraordinary florid cadenzas. Smith's tone was liquid with just the right amount of seductive "woodiness" while Remy Johnson's harp responded to her simple part with angelic charm.

Sir Donald Runnicles conducts the Atlanta Symphony
© Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

The pair played the iconic opening aquarelles of Reinecke's cadenza for the Andantino as if they were lost in a magical impressionistic haze. Then, after Runnicles set the Rondeau off at a bustling pace with a delightful sense of phrasing and style, the soloists smoothly negotiated all their gently virtuosic runs while capturing lyrical strains which suggested Mozart's future operatic heroines. In Reinecke's last movement cadenza, Remy Johnson absolutely nailed the descending chromatic run back into the tutti, and the Smith's last trill was, as it should be, her best.

Runnicles' Beethoven Four began gravely, had the usually more dramatic arousals moving at two to the bar before smoothly shifting gears into a gripping, eventful Allegro in which the woodwind riffs enhanced the sense of sleek escapade that seemed like a legitimate and persuasive evolution of what the period instrument people have to say. Runnicles avoided, perhaps too obviously at times, the usual rhetorical pitfalls, and gave a deeply moving sense of rebirthing to the first ending at the double bar, then played the repeat with even more force and sense of original inspiration setting up the development. One of the few trade-offs in a performance that seemed precisely timed not to impede forward movement was that it robbed the mystery from the great transition passage leading into the recapitulation.

Sir Donald Runnicles conducts the Atlanta Symphony
© Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

The ASO continued to play eloquently in the middle movements, with exceptionally sweet-toned oboes in the Trio, then came to do combat in the Finale where they never lost their poise but were momentarily sidetracked before the exchanges between the woodwinds and strings leading to the big tragic outbursts. If Runnicles and the band took some of Beethoven's jokes too literally, it was altogether a grand exhilarating performance.


This performance was reviewed from the ASO's video stream

****1