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The balance of the first half was devoted to Liszt's second piano concerto, featuring Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Eschenbach presided over an exciting, very severe allegro agitato, followed by a dreamy allegro moderato with beautiful interplay between Thibaudet and principal cellist David Hardy. The penultimate Marziale is Liszt in trashy exuberance mode, and Eschenbach pushed things perhaps too far--frequently drowning out Thibaudet and precipitating at least one orchestra snarl. Things tightened up for an appropriately breakneck finale.
The NSO has been playing Brahms First Symphony a lot the past few weeks as part of their tour repertoire, heard at home in an erratic performance during one of the tour tryout evenings. Tonight they gave Brahms 3rd in a more assured take. Eschenbach has the right feel for the sturm and drang of the first movement, conjuring relentless anxiety and big satisfying swells from the orchestra, though the strings weren't always able to maintain coherence and beauty amidst all the agitation. Eschenbach relished the languid pace of the second and third movements, taking things maybe a bit slow for some tastes but I appreciated his patience in letting the quiet details in these passages unfold at their own pace.
The anguished fourth was a (mostly) controlled whirlwind, at its best achieving an exhilarating momentum and thrilling unified sound. Despite two weeks on the road together, though, the orchestra and Eschenbach seemed at cross purposes at several points, with several seemingly unanticipated gear shifts leaving the band in disarray. It's hard to go wrong with the 3rd's devastating, unexpectedly quiet coda, and this one mostly satisfied, though never quite reaching that hushed stasis that makes for such a chilling contrast with what has come before.
In a bizarre programming choice, the NSO then tacked on Hungarian Dances #3, #10, and #16, for a combined 7 or so minutes of bonus music. It's unclear whether someone felt the 3rd didn't make for a long enough second half (though it was already past 9 after a 7 PM start), that the end of the 3rd was too much of a bummer to end a show with, or whether some obscure union rules were in play, but none of the players seemed in the mood for these bonbons after the emotional catharsis of the 3rd. Odd.