took up the post of Principal Conductor of
the Philadelphia Orchestra in September last
year (he is just the seventh person to hold
this post). A high-profile tour seems calculated
to set the seal on this appointment and in
its heyday, of course, the Philadelphia Orchestra
was universally recognised for its excellence.
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (‘Transfigured
Night’) coupled with Mahler’s First Symphony
makes for short shrift. Schoenberg’s famous
string sextet (here in its expanded version
for string orchestra), in the right hands,
can take emotions to extremes in the unfolding
of the perhaps somewhat unrealistic storyline
of Richard Dehmel’s poem.
immersion into the Schoenbergian late-Romantic
world would seem a pre-requisite for this
work. So it was that the essence of Eschenbach
and the Philadelphians’ interpretation was
established at the very start. A good, middle-of-the-road
tempo and excellent control from the string
players was the first thing to strike the
listener; the next was that no emotive link
in the composer-performer-listener chain was
secured at any point.
challenge of Verklärte Nacht is
to balance the clear delineation of the Brahmsian
voice-leading against chromatically saturated
late/post Romanticism. This is indeed a difficult
path to tread, and in his efforts towards
clarity, Eschenbach lost sight of the overall
picture. Big, warm harmonic arrival points
may have sounded luscious, but they
categorically failed to carry the requisite
harmonic and structural weight.
the performance, two solo contributors were
noteworthy - the consistent excellence of
the solo viola and (notable for a different
reason), the rather sharp-toned efforts of
the leader, David Kim. But it became clear
that something further was missing. While
the Philadelphians can conjure up a magical
pianissimo, any volume above a healthy-ish
mezzo-forte was missing. An incomplete
dynamic spectrum hardly helps.
the shortcomings of Christoph von Dohnányi’s
recent Mahler First with the Philharmonia,
it remains a memorable performance. Its faults
were as nothing to Eschenbach’s.
with, and infinitely surprisingly, there were
technical problems, most especially from the
horns, with ragged entries from the third
and fourth players in the first movement,
not to mention the section’s initial, tentative
entry. The climax to this movement was not
prepared by Eschenbach by any form of long-range
thought, so emerged as merely (very) loud.
The sense of the grotesque, so vital to the
second movement, was almost entirely absent.
At least there was some sense of the rustic
in the Trio.
aside, the entire enterprise showed us the
technical brilliance of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Have the opening octaves ever been so perfectly
held? Or has the rapid string figuration of
the finale’s beginning ever been so together?
Yet the final peroration - so loud, so brash
- said it all. A lot of sound (a lot), with
no fury and certainly no exhilaration, signifying
1: Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernstein. DG Panorama
Berlin Philharmoniker/von Karajan. DG The
Originals 457 721-2 (coupled with Pelleas