Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann at Carnegie Hall (2/3) – Mendelssohn & Brahms

Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Symphony No.3 in A-minor, Op.56 (Scottish)

Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Vienna Philharmonic

Christian Thielemann

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 4 March, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

The second evening opened with a dark and vibrant account of the Hebrides Overture. Christian Thielemann’s steady and subdued tempos maintained the somber mood, allowing Mendelssohn’s imaginative and atmospheric music to emerge with great power and beauty. The strings were wonderfully warm and even the agitated outbursts of the brass sounded as resplendent. 

A beautifully played but less than totally satisfying rendering of the ‘Scottish’ Symphony followed. While Thielemann elicited some incisive and spirited sounds in the introductory Andante – the introductory melody was exceptionally poised and beautifully phrased – the treatment as a whole was marked by a weighty solemnity more befitting of Brahms than Mendelssohn. The dance-like Scherzo came across as more lead-footed than cheerfully graceful, and while the Adagio flowed easily enough, with no hint of sentimentality, it was more lethargic than desirable. In the Finale Thielemann recouped some of the energy missing from the earlier movements. The coda, closing on a fast gallop with the horns blazing brightly, was suitably driven and provided a gratifying and majestic close.

After intermission came a distinctive and highly pleasurable rendition of Brahms’s warm and lyrical Second Symphony. The VPO responded superbly to Thielemann, delivering an energetic performance full of fervor and power and offering playing that – while not exactly relaxed – was not too hard-driven to mask the music’s eloquence and essentially cheerful character.

The orchestra exuded a marvelous feeling of vitality throughout, the first movement brisk, warm and impulsive, the coda enhanced by Ronald Janezic’s extraordinarily expressive horn solo. The Allegretto grazioso third had an appealing simplicity and elegance, distinguished by the graceful and sparkling work of the woodwinds, in particular Clemens Horak’s delicately beautiful oboe solo. The excitement of the fiery Finale carried an intense display of colors as it galloped into the fortissimo trombone-powered coda. But the real highlight owas the enigmatic and lovingly detailed Adagio which had many memorable contributions, most notably that of the lyrical cellos in the arioso-like opening, Dietmar Küblböck’s ominous trombone later, and the graceful violins throughout. Altogether this was a gorgeous and glowing reading. The encore came from the nostalgic world of the orchestra’s polka- and waltz-filled New Year’s concerts – on this occasion a delightfully zippy rendition of Eduard Strauss’s playful Mit Extrapost.

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