This London Philharmonic concert – the second in its doubleheader at Lincoln Center this week – got off to a fine start with Edward Gardner leading a dramatic and disciplined account of Beethoven’s highly-charged Egmont Overture.
In Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, the soloist was James Ehnes, who brought emotional concentration, impeccable intonation and stunning virtuosity to it. Ehnes created a splendid sonority in the hushed and mystical opening, and was at his most impressive in the cadenza. The romantic Adagio di molto was marked by poetic tenderness and thoughtful lyricism without a trace of exaggeration, and Ehnes then traversed the exuberant brilliance of the Finale with mastery. The LPO and Gardner provided a remarkably sensitive accompaniment. Ehnes offered two encores: a dazzling performance of Ysaÿe’s Sonata No.3 (Ballade), and a soulful rendition of the Largo from J. S. Bach’s Sonata in C, BWV 1005.
Following intermission Gardner and the LPO unleashed the full power of Mahler’s First Symphony, a rapturous and refined performance. With superbly alert and beautiful playing, the ethereal ambience of the spacious and spellbinding opening, with its chirping birdsong and evocative off-stage brass, was perfectly captured. Aside from the strings’ wonderfully warmhearted playing throughout and the horns’ atmospheric responses, among many memorable moments were the poignant presentation of the ‘Frère Jacques’ tune in the third movement, the achingly moving slow music during the tempestuous Finale, and the exultant brilliance of the brass in the conclusion, rounding-off a reading that brought out the theater and uninhibited joy of Mahler’s complex and wide-ranging music.