Thursday, February 04, 2016

NSO plays Brahms, etc.

A few belated words on the NSO show last Saturday. This was the second of two weekends led by Eschenbach, his first appearances since the announcement that Gianandrea Noseda will succeed him at the NSO's helm. The program featured the second group of works that the NSO will take on tour to Europe this month--the overture to Der Freischutz, Schubert's Symphony No. 8, and Brahms First Symphony.

Anne Midgette rightly questions what the deal is with going all the way to Europe to play a bunch of Central European Top 40 hitz to the locals. Except for a contemporary work by Christopher Rouse this is the reddest of red meat programming. Do European promoters expect American orchestras to prove they can hack it? Sort of the opposite of how we expect Czech orchestras and conductors do the Prague Symphony and Dvorak all the time?

Anyhow, the first half Schubert and Weber were fine, but I was in it for the Brahms. Eschenbach came out swinging, highly attuned to the rollicking push and pull of the first movement and its restless lurching between meters. This was full blooded but tightly controlled Brahms that wasn't shy about playing up the fundamentally unpleasant nature of Brahms' first official statement in symphonic form. The second movement, with its balance of repression and release, benefits from a slow burn and holding something back, but Eschenbach took the bait and went back to the generic emotional swell too often. Things went downright haywire in the final bars which slow to a point of stasis, such that Nurit Bar-Josef's violin solo seemed oddly rushed and cursory, perhaps a tempo miscommunication issue? The allegretto was fairly scattered as well, with shifts in tempi that had the orchestra stumbling over itself at times. Thankfully Eschenbach was back in form for the closing movement, and led a truly exhilarating rush to the finale.

It sounds like Friday's run was much tighter, so perhaps an off-night or just trying some stuff here before heading out on the road...

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