Dudamel and Vienna Philharmonic a jarring mismatch in middle Carnegie program

Sun Feb 25, 2018 at 2:12 pm
Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Saturday night at Carnegie Hall.

Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in music of Mahler and Berlioz Saturday night at Carnegie Hall.

The expectations game cuts both ways. With an orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, you circle their New York visit on the calendar and expect it will be one of the highlights of the season. Anything less is a real disappointment.

The VPO’s Saturday concert at Carnegie Hall, the second of their three-night stand with Gustavo Dudamel, offered a fairly safe program to begin with, and it was hardly enlivened by its execution. At the head of one of the world’s great ensembles, Dudamel seemed lost, giving bland readings of Mahler and Berlioz in which he seemed to be doing little more than keeping time.

The evening began with a largely superficial rendition of the Adagio from Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony. Sonic intensity showed through in moments, but not consistently enough to match the dramatic needs of the piece. Most of the variety Dudamel found was strictly in volume: he managed loud and soft, yet even with one of the world’s most responsive instruments at his fingertips, there was little variety of color. The performance was at least polished, but without taking advantage of the orchestra’s great capacity for coloration, this Adagio felt monotonous.

A betting man would have guessed that Dudamel would do better with the more bombastic Symphonie fantastique of Berlioz; he’d be wrong. Though there was more excitement here than there had been in the Mahler, this was an alarmingly sloppy performance for such an esteemed orchestra and experienced conductor. In the “Reveries and Passions,” it sounded almost as though the strings hadn’t practiced their parts, stumbling over the rapid passagework.

“The Ball” offered a chance to hear this great Viennese orchestra play a waltz–albeit a French one–but here too Dudamel failed to let the music sink into its necessary sense of ease. The tempo was violently unstable, wrenching back and forth in the course of a single phrase with little apparent logic or direction. Dudamel was successful in spiraling the movement  towards an exciting end, but any dancing couples trying to follow this waltz would have been tripping over each other’s feet.

The scene “Of the Meadows” similarly lacked a sense of purpose. The Symphonie fantastique is a precisely programmatic piece, but here the point of the scene was unclear beyond portraying a general bucolic calm, until the orchestra woke up for the shepherd’s flash of emotional turmoil.

It wasn’t until the final two scenes that the performance began to take any kind of clear form. The March to the Scaffold was brilliant, capturing the urgent drama of the moment and pitting the gleeful pomp of the band against the suspense of the drumroll as a way of mocking the prisoner in his final minutes.

A taut, dark atmosphere brought the Witches’ Sabbath to life with frantic energy, colored by the ominous pounding and blaring of the “Dies irae” theme. Here, at last, every effect landed brilliantly, chilling the bone with skittering spiccato.

After a more rewarding concert, a waltz might have been a charming and welcome addition. Given the circumstances, Saturday’s encore of Josef Strauss’s Delirien, though elegantly and stylishly played, gave the whole evening the feel of a disjointed New Year’s concert.

The Vienna Philharmonic’s final Carnegie Hall concert this season will take place 2 p.m. Sunday, featuring Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 2 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. carnegiehall.org

 

 


One Response to “Dudamel and Vienna Philharmonic a jarring mismatch in middle Carnegie program”

  1. Posted Aug 28, 2018 at 3:16 pm by Francois Girardot

    Just reading this. I completely agree with your review!

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