Vienna Philharmonic/Franz Welser-Möst at Carnegie Hall – Bruckner & Berg

Symphony No.9 in D minor

Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6

Vienna Philharmonic
Franz Welser-Möst

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 1 March, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Franz Welser-Möst led the Vienna Philharmonic in a formidable program of two late-Romantic works. With his expressive and explicit gestures, he drew a swift but lucid account of Bruckner’s unfinished Ninth Symphony marked by admirable intonation, rhythmic precision, and extraordinary sensitivity. The pace of the first movement was brisk but broad enough to let the music unfold without over-bloated climaxes or expressive indulgences, as the maestro gradually unveiled its expansive structure and allowed the orchestra to bring full force to the thrilling climax. Following a ghostly but delicately delivered introduction, the Scherzo erupted into a throbbing and brutally uninhibited dance. The contrasting, transparently scored, Trio was expertly managed, lyrical sections flowing without being impeded by the quick tempo. The Adagio, which Bruckner described as “a farewell to life” and intended as the penultimate movement, was perfectly paced, counterbalancing effectively with the first movement. The closing pages, with the orchestra’s radiant brass soaring serenely into the heavens, brought the noble and alluring performance to a satisfying end.

After the final notes had faded, Welser-Möst dropped his arms and remained still, while additional instrumentalists entered, and he then gave the downbeat for the Berg, which would serve as a kind of substitute for the left-incomplete Finale of the Bruckner. The Vienna Philharmonic once again displayed impressive cohesion. The impressionistic ‘Präludium’ opened with subterranean murmurs from flute, trumpet and celesta, and led into an expressive, wide-ranging theme which finally sank back into the void, with powerful playing projecting a sense of something hidden beneath the surface. ‘Reigen’ (Round Dance), awash with inventive transformations to the waltz and its precursor, the Ländler, was rendered with a feeling of pent-up energy and constantly searching motion. The most brilliant playing came in the weighty ‘Marsch’, where, after a mash-up of fanfares and marches, Welser-Möst unleashed the full power of the orchestra in a succession of thrilling climaxes, building to an earsplitting ending that intensified the feeling of catastrophe.

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