Last night’s concert was another example of “Who’s leading whom?” The “Prague” symphony started things off: time after time it was just not quite together. Claudio Abbado uses a big baton and big swooping gestures and 95% of the time the left and right hands move in sync. But the Vienna Philharmonic knows its Mozart and, left to their own devices, produced some rather nice moments.
I never felt that any of their phrasing was the result of Abbado’s gestures. In the tricky spots, his hands almost stop, then he waits for the players to tidy up before moving on. The exposition repeat was observed, but only in the first “Allegro.” Despite a couple of possibilities from musicologists, no “Minuet” was offered. The “Presto” was just too fast—perhaps suiting an Italian temperament but certainly not allowing the subtleties of the score to come across. An approach in the storied manor of Karl Böhm would have been appreciated.
Bruckner’s magnificent Seventh Symphony, I hoped, would be quite a different matter. (Many conductors seem at odds with the Classical repertoire and excel themselves in the Romantic period—er, hello there Charles Dutoit). Here, Abbado’s swooping ministrations were more appropriate but I didn’t feel that he was into the structure of the music—once more, the sound led the charge. This was self-defeating as the VPO brass are just not Chicago: pitch and misfire problems were far too numerous for comfort. In the self-indulgence category, no less than two tympanists were summoned for the loud climaxes. Due to the proximity of the players, the overall effect was really no different than if there had been a single, extra-enthusiastic performer.
The “Adagio” frequently wandered in an aimless fashion—many, many of the accents and dynamic details were ignored. As a result, the audience became restless: they, too, had lost their train of thought. Of course, no score was present, but keeping time and “ending when they do” is a far cry from knowing the complex material “by heart.” On several occasions the woodwinds came in very tentatively (sometimes incorrectly)—uncertain when to start, getting no help from the podium. (With so many concerts over such a short period of time, even the most experienced players need reassurance as they go about their work.)
Still, the “Finale’s” huge torrent of E Major managed to revitalize the crowd, convincing them to demand a quintet of curtain calls. Curiously, those few hundred in the inexpensive seats were much more restrained in their applause, many of whom (more than any concert thus far) took the opportunity to make an early, unhindered exodus to the doors.
It is only to wonder how tomorrow’s Beethoven and Schubert pairing will fare (cross-reference below). JWR