The Vienna Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel launched their American tour with this Brahms program at Carnegie Hall and played with incredible clarity, allowing all the intricacies of the composer’s counterpoint to be audible, and the Viennese horns’ softer colors contributed to the transparency.
The Academic Festival Overture was delightfully boisterous, the student songs, including 'Gaudeamus Igitur' well-articulated, and the Haydn Variations was distinct, broadly gentle, although Variation VIII (Presto) was a touch precarious due to Dudamel’s tempo, but the closing section roared succinctly. If the music-making was at times restrained as well as mannered then the First Symphony was wild and temperamental and for which Dudamel summoned another tier of power to sustain the opening with its indefatigable timpani strokes. The slow movement’s violin solo, in collaboration with horn and clarinet, was divine in its phrasing, and the principal theme of the Finale, linked to Beethoven, was warmly-sounded, if a bit quick. The trombones, patiently silent until now, played the chorale, which returns in triumph at the end of the Symphony, impeccably.
There were two encores, the ‘Waltz’ from Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento, written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Seiji Ozawa, and Josef Strauss’s Winterlust, which splendidly features sleigh-bells and slapstick.