Stepping in for Zubin Mehta, whose indisposition has kept him from undertaking the Israel Philharmonic’s current North American tour, Yoel Levi led the Orchestra in a pair of Symphonies from opposite ends of the nineteenth-century.
Schubert composed his Third in 1815, music that bubbles over with youthful exuberance, including a delightful Allegretto in lieu of the customary slow movement and a variety of dance influences. The performance was charming, yet rather foursquare, Levi keeping his forces in good order and balance. The woodwind principals were standouts: clarinet in the opening movement and the Allegretto; oboe and bassoon in the Minuet’s Trio; and flute throughout, but especially in the concluding Presto, in which the excellent strings displayed their agility.
Following intermission, Levi led a forward-moving reading of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony in a version in which he modifies Robert Haas’s publication by adding elements from Leopold Nowak’s – including the cymbal clash at the Adagio’s climax. Levi’s expressive gestures beautifully shaped each of the contrasting ideas in the opening Allegro moderato, the first of these, played by cellos, being particularly gorgeous. Levi captured the movement’s ebbs and flows, and dynamics ranged from a whisper to near ear-shattering levels. The strings were lush for the Adagio’s mournful opening melody, and the quartet of Wagner tubas eloquent in the closing section that serves as a memorial to Bruckner’s idol, Wagner’s death in 1883 came as the movement was being composed. In the Scherzo, a trumpet sang out sweetly over ostinato figures in the strings, and soared above grandiose lower brass in the episodic Finale, the latter given with animation but not too fast, in accordance with Bruckner’s marking, if rather anticlimactic until the brass came to the fore. Indeed, this performance emphasized the power of that section, in the Adagio’s climactic passages as well as the outer movements’ monumental codas, culminating in a final, glorious, peroration.