After reading Anne Midgette's review of the jet-lagged Philharmonic's performance last week, I didn't go into tonight's concert with the highest expectations. But, then, this program lacked the Russian and French showpieces that plagued that other program. Brahms is all about discipline, and his 3rd and 4th Symphonies were just the right tonic to whip this band back into shape.
The Philharmonic has a long history playing these symphonies, premiering each less than a year after they were first played in Vienna and Meiningen, respectively. And Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel, who led the orchestra from memory, has been conducting these symphonies for over half-a-century. Predictably, he kept the playing clipped and shorn of all embellishment: Maazel's methodical, austere approach isn't appropriate for every composer, but in Brahms, it is essential. Those who were in Avery Fisher Hall tonight had the privilege of seeing an American master at the top of his game.
Unfortunately, that same hall was once again the enemy, refusing all warmth or resonance to the greatly-augmented strings. Beyond acoustical concerns, Avery Fisher is, put simply, a dump: everywhere you look, there is worn fabric, chipped paint, faded 60's decor. It is an embarrassment to this city and this orchestra, and it's no wonder my musical experiences there over the past few years have been less-than-inspiring. Give credit to the players and their leader that they are able to put out any sort of decent product in that godforsaken barn.
Even so, the hall was at near-capacity tonight, which likely had less to do with NYers affinity for Brahms than the fact that the only other performance is tomorrow morning at 11am. Talk about yer geriatric fest!