The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, under Robert Shaw, opened its concert Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the adagio from Mahler's unfinished Symphony No. 10 The work has flattering echoes of "Tristan" in its shadows and harmonics, its broken promise of atonality and its desperate melancholy. It proved a fine showpiece for the Atlanta strings. Their single-minded dynamics provided a moving foil for the awakening brass and winds at the close.
Beethovan's Symphony No. 9, with its famous choral finale on Schiller's "Ode to Joy," took the main part of the evening. The beauty of this masterpiece is more than skin-deep, but its splendid and bright surface is what Shaw's superficial reading emphasized in the first three movements. It began too loud, and the initial rumblings of oncoming storm and stress were presaged too well to surprise. Shaw took the scherzo at a dashing clip that covered its mechanical beat. And that same dispassionate beat proved far from that of a lover's heart in the adagio, which was fast, shallow, cold and loud.
Then came Norman Scribner's Choral Arts Society of Washington. With it, Beethoven's greatness shone through. Beethoven and Schiller mirrored the sublime intensity of the days when bourgeois freedom was a youthful ideal. The Choral Arts brought just this thrill to the work, with the power and dynamic subtleties that the orchestra had been wanting. The bass Edward Crafts resounded with heroic richness at the entrance of the poem, and he was joined in a distinguished quartet of soloists by Lorna Haywood, Florence Kopleff, and Gene Tucker.