The Vienna Philharmonic and Franz Welser-Möst commenced the first of three concerts at Carnegie Hall with something from a quintessentially Viennese composer, Franz Schubert. Delivering the first theme with divine simplicity and distinct rubato, the Philharmonic demonstrated remarkable ensemble and although Welser-Möst controlled the dramatic subito shifts to piano he was otherwise content to let the musicians roar through the body of the work.
René Staar’s Time Recycling (2013) is a masterclass in post-modern eclecticism. It opens with Varèse-like attacks and also demonstrates mastery of spectral techniques. Staar (born in 1951 in Graz), a VPO violinist, builds and demolishes textures, dividing instruments into small groups working simultaneously using extended techniques: flutists blew down their instruments, and violinists did percussion duty. The piece also calls for some theatrics, players standing up suddenly or blowing whistles. Staar was present to receive acclaim from audience and colleagues.
Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben opened with merciless directness, at an almost brazen tempo. Concertmaster Volker Steude played the fiendishly difficult violin solos (the Hero’s beloved) with pitch-perfect accuracy and tremendous character. Welser-Möst skillfully managed the arch of the piece, which gathered might as it progressed, and the full brunt of the VPO coupled with Carnegie Hall’s famed acoustic produced an overwhelming experience.
There was a delightful encore, Johann Strauss II’s Voices of Spring waltz (Frühlingsstimmen, Opus 410).