For the first concert of their three-night residency at Carnegie Hall this year, the Vienna Philharmonic stayed close to their Austrian heritage, showcasing works of von Suppé and Richard Strauss on the program’s first half. Even the choice of a Dvorák symphony on the second half kept with the nationalistic theme, as the composer sought a sense of widespread respectability by transitioning the tone of this work from that of a Czech nationalist to a more devout Germanic structure.
Conductor Franz Welser-Möst led a dramatic account of the symphony, choosing brisk tempos throughout that created an almost perpetual-motion-like feeling to the florid melody-making. Rooted in D minor—Mozart’s go-to key for expressing grief and sorrow—there was a true sense of foreboding throughout, with Vienna’s brass section heralding menacing and rhythmic punctuations above the many stormy string passages.
And whereas most violin sections fall flat on their faces reaching for Dvorák’s lofty registral changes and use of the uppermost voice of the instrument, Vienna’s enormous sections were crystalline and produced a uniform attention to pitch. The strings presented a master class in effortless technique, floating their bows throughout the many accompanimental passages that relied on virtuosic string-crossing. As opposed to their musical counterparts in Berlin, the Vienna strings opt for a glossier sound—one that is diverse enough to sing through the longest of phrases, but with the ability to dig into a brusque Bohemian style when called for in the work’s second movement.
Rounding out the program was an engaging reading of von Suppé’s otherwise not-engaging Poet and Peasant Overture. Although the piece hinged on light Viennese waltzes, it was the opening brass chorale and emotive cello solo that primarily stood out as sterling moments.
A collection of four Richard Strauss lieder left much to be desired—a hodgepodge assembly of songs from across Strauss’ lengthy career. It was difficult to ascertain any distinctive style, with one song using Rosenkavalier-esque chromaticism before the next presented a hokey set of rustic fanfares.
Tenor soloist Herbert Lippert also failed to deliver a comprehensive account of the lieder set, struggling to support his top register and failing to make his mark above the thick orchestral textures. Even when paired just with the string body, Lippert failed to communicate any dynamic colors, relying on a strained posture and inarticulate consonants throughout. With the orchestra firing on all cylinders throughout the evening, it would have been nice to see the group paired with a soloist and a structured song cycle that matched the players’ otherwise polished performance standards.