Bernstein, Tschaikowsky, Elgar
The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin returned for a second night in the Musiverein’s Golden Hall, making a bigger splash with the audience than last night: bigger applause devolving to rhythmic clapping and a call for an encore. To be honest: this orchestra certainly deserved the ovation, but I’m not convinced tonight was better than last.
The first half of the concert had one peculiar piece, Leonard Bernstein‘s Second Symphony, the “Age of Anxiety.” Bernstein was a far better conductor and intellectual than he was a composer, but this is one of his better compositions. That does not make it any less pretentious. Part One was everywhere (as the composer intended), which I suppose is what gives it the sense of anxiety. But it was a joyous Part One – a musical description of four people getting drunk together, but each lonely and self-absorbed, in a bar, they seemed to be embibing a bit too much and may have actually been rather happy when not mourning their own existence. Part Two, on the other hand, never seemed to figure out what it wanted to be, shifting musical styles (including a bit of jazz) without settling on anything. This may have been a bit too weird. The Orchestra could certainly handle this tricky music with no problem at all – the only one who seemed to be anxious was Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the piano soloist (the work is in many ways more piano concerto than symphony), whose mouth remained agape and whose eye stared up at Nézet-Séguin with a look of utter fear. Thibaudet appears to have told his barber to cut his hair to match Bernstein’s own hairstyle, and there was a passing similarity, so perhaps this was indeed the pianist channeling the composer’s spirit.
For the second half of the concert, the Orchestra pulled out Tschaikowsky‘s Fourth Symphony. His fourth, fifth, and sixth symphonies are performed far too often. They are good music, but it’s just hard to say anything new. This Orchestra’s thrilling Tschaikowsky Fifth in Dresden in 2015, for example, still rings in my ears – it was that good. Tonight’s Fourth… wonderful performance, but I heard nothing I haven’t heard before. So that was a bit disappointing.
But yes it was a wonderful performance, and the audience appreciated it maybe more than I did. The solo bows elicited roars (particularly for the principal oboist, Richard Woodhams, who is retiring at the end of this tour, whose solo bow inspired massive foot thumping across the hall). So the orchestra gave us an orchestration of Edward Elgar‘s Liebesgruß to show off its lush string sound, as an encore.