In terms of self-indulgence Herbert von Karajan’s second performance (cross-reference below) was very similar to the first. Here, he decided that no less than two harpsichords would do for The Four Seasons. This decision allowed him to “play” one of them and so be able to sit down for the entire work. Actually, he must have contributed about forty bars altogether.
Anne-Sophie Mutter (one of his current protégés) was just adequate in the demanding solo part. There were many problems with pitch and the ensemble—thanks in large part to the lack of precision from Karajan—was frequently ragged. Mutter does have a marvellously rich tone and ample technique, but needs to broaden her musical horizons. With so little “direction” on the printed page, the phrasing must, nonetheless, evolve into meaningful statements.
At the end of each loud/fast movement Karajan inserted a luftpause to ensure (one assumes) unanimity of attack for the last chord. The pauses most certainly interrupted the musical flow, but the final resolutions were not together. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s musicians did their best to keep things on track (mainly via body language) but could never quite follow or ignore, as was required, the indications from the podium. Mutter was allowed two solo bows (compared with none for Zimmerman, cross-reference below) but he, not surprisingly, is not one of the “Chief Conductor of Europe’s” projects.
After intermission, (as I had also done the previous evening, cross-reference below), I stood at the back of the hall for the Brahms symphony. I must admit that it was kind of a trip to hear the work performed by the same orchestra that brought it to Vienna for the first time in 1876. 108 years later, frustration abounded: a spectacular sound, yet so “untogether.”
The tympani and brass were frequently at odds with each other and the principal oboe just murdered his solo with burbling keys. Karajan tried to keep things flowing along but failed to move fast enough to make a smooth transition to the Più allegro of the finale. The famed maestro also has the most annoying habit of conducting vigourously through the unison rests—one wonders just how he would describe the conductor’s role. As always, the assemblage went wild with adoration after the double bar.
(As I am writing this, two members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra are sitting behind me in a restaurant. They are unsure as to what they will be playing at their concert later that night—cross-reference below—and have discussed the various neuroses associated with touring and the challenges they bring.) JWR