Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Miguel Harth-Bedoya shines on final day of 2012 Savannah Music Festival

The last time I saw the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was in 2010, in a performance with Lang Lang at the Savannah Music Festival.

But that show was in the big soulless space of the Johnny Mercer Theater. The strange cocoon of Johnny Mercer always makes shows feel a little stale to me, and the sound — especially on the lower level under the balcony — always seems a tad muffled.

The distances seem unusually large at the Mercer too — even the front row can feel awfully distant from some performers.

So what a delight to see the ASO today — the final day of the Savannah Music Festival — in the glorious Lucas Theatre. It’s only half the size of the Mercer, which obviously impacts ticket availability and prices, but I can’t imagine anyone was complaining about the sound or about the uninspiring atmosphere.

Guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya wielded the baton while radiating joy as the concert got rolling with the gorgeous, racing Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (orchestrated by Maurice Ravel) was next — a piece with a slowly penetrating power. The ten movements had so little time between them that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the next began. Still, the piece explored different moods through subtly drawn tableaux. The muted trumpet in the sixth movement had me totally hooked, and I wasn’t surprised when the audience roared to their feet at the end of the powerful final movement.

By comparison with the vigor of the first two pieces, the second half of the program — Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 — seemed less compelling than I expected. Solo pianist Yefim Bronfman was in full command of the fast and delicate passages, but the composition itself dabbled in various moods too lightly for my taste. Still, it was a beautiful piece — and a beautiful visual too, with Bronfman at a glowing Steinway in the center of the Lucas Theatre stage, which was brimming with musicians.

The Atlanta Symphony under Robert Spano has already been booked for the 2013 Savannah Music Festival — on April 6th — when they will perform a new piano concerto co-commissioned by Marcus Roberts (wow!), according to Rob Gibson in his introduction today.

A snippet of the Brahms:

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