Tickets for Vienna Philharmonic concerts are hard to come by these days without buying a yearly cycle. So it made sense to start with the more-easily obtainable rehearsal ticket, sitting on the balcony, before a late concert ticket became available on Thursday in the middle of the night. Although the Musikverein is justly famous for its acoustics, the last rows of the Parterre are relatively dull and lifeless – maybe better than some halls, but nevertheless disappoining here. So I heard the rehearsal – very much a working rehearsal, with breaks, cuts, and discussions on interpretations – in much better sound than the full play-through at the concert.
This stood out right from the first work, Sibelius’ Finlandia, a staple of the repertory for which conductor Riccardo Chailly only needed to emphasize some of the thick and lush chorales in the woodwinds during the rehearsal, and which sounded much brighter during the rehearsal than from my downstairs seat in the concert.
Leonidas Kavakos joined in for the Sibelius Violin Concerto. His tone is delicate and pure, which works for Sibelius’ icy music, and the Philharmoniker knew not to overwhelm him, matching the style. However, the rehearsal had its fits and starts, as the soloist and the orchestra often appeared to have difficulty establishing a good rapport. This prompted much discussion on stage, and Kavakos also turned to rehearse facing the orchestra, to assist in melding their approaches. Although I left the rehearsal convinced they had reached an understanding, at the concert it did not seem too clear. Sometimes it worked, particularly at the opening, but sometimes they played against each other. Fine playing all around, just not always compatible, and as a result often too tentative. Soloist and orchestra looked sympathetic to each other, but this look did not translate in the sound.
Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony concluded the program. The least performed of Bruckner’s symphonies, and often under-valued, this work was actually my favorite Bruckner symphony when I was a child (overtaken by the Eighth when I became a teenager and learned to appreciate the architecture of that large cathedral of sound, and later falling below others on the list as well), much as a result of the accessible galloping theme in the first movement (later reprised). Chailly took this at a faster gallop than usual, while maintaining the soaring chorales, which tied the work back to the Sibelius works in the concert’s first half, demonstrating how much Sibelius’s style owed to Bruckner.