Symphony No.1 in C-minor, Op.68
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 30 November, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Daniel Barenboim was to have led the Staatskapelle Berlin in this, the first concert in a Carnegie Hall pair presenting Brahms’s Four Symphonies, but due to health reasons had to withdraw from the orchestra’s current four-city U.S. tour. On short notice, Yannick Nézet-Séguin stepped in for the ensemble’s first New York appearance in six years.
In two distinctly different works, the Staatskapelle musicians confirmed their reputation as a totally refined, responsive and virtuosic group, serving up energetic and invigorating Brahms to a sold-out, totally attentive audience. Sacrificing some richness in the strings by performing with antiphonal seating of violins, the orchestra produced a lean collective sound, but with brilliant brass and wonderfully characterful woodwinds.
The program led off with the heroic Symphony No.1, an outstanding performance, from the opening timpani to the winds in the finale’s brass chorale. A dynamic figure, Nézet-Séguin elicited propulsive, passionate playing in the outer movements, but it was the interior sections – the Andante distinguished by concertmaster Wolfram Brandl’s sumptuous violin solo, and the achingly beautiful Un poco allegretto with its finely executed clarinet statements – that were the highlights. The initial appearance of the brass chorale in the Finale was wonderfully translucent, with its restatement at the end making a decisive impact.
For the brighter, bucolic Second Symphony, the Berlin musicians once again played superbly for Nézet-Séguin, their response to his graceful gestures attentive and nuanced, the effect completely spontaneous. Warm and impulsive in the opening Allegro, exposition repeat included, they were richly expressive in the affectionately detailed Adagio, and elegant in the third with its delicate oboe solo superbly executed, leading into a brilliant, triumphant final movement.
The players were obviously appreciative of, and impressed with, their conductor. Following the Symphony, he and Brandl embraced while the ensemble heartily applauded. Nézet-Séguin, in remarks from the podium, said what an “immense honor” it was to conduct such “extraordinary musicians” and that he and all the members of the orchestra sent wishes for good health to Barenboim.