Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482
Till Fellner: Piano
Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Ed. Nowak)
These past few days I have been reminded of the importance of the Viennese musical scene with a serendipitous marathon of many things Viennese. After happily basking in a couple of hours of Mozart’s glorious music last Sunday afternoon, I found myself getting ready for more on Thursday evening with our own New York Philharmonic, German conductor Christoph Eschenbach and Viennese pianist Till Fellner. I had the pleasure of hearing the young pianist play the same all-Beethoven program a couple of weeks apart in Vienna and in Washington, D.C. a few years ago, and I was now very much looking forward to becoming reacquainted with him and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22.
Not to be outdone, the second half of the concert would be dedicated to Viennese composer Anton Bruckner’s sprawling Symphony No. 9, which he did not get to finish, but is widely regarded as a major achievement of his. Moreover, the prospect of witnessing maestro Eschenbach’s famously idiosyncratic conducting applied to the challenging musical work promised to be an experience to remember, hopefully for the right reasons.
One of Mozart’s loveliest creations in a wide-ranging œuvre containing many timeless works, his Piano Concerto No. 22 kicked off the concert with brisk elegance in a very full David Geffen Hall. Still as youthful-looking and reserved as I remembered him, Fellner, who was making his long-overdue New York Philharmonic debut on Thursday evening, focused squarely on the music, delivering a wonderfully pristine and quietly thrilling performance.
The cadenzas of the first and third movements in particular, by Paul Badura-Skoda and Johann Nepomuk Hummel respectively, spontaneously brought to mind a gently lilting stream as his fingers were working at break-neck speed. After an assertive Allegro, the Andante unfolded delicately introspective and slightly mysterious, before the exciting last movement, a personal favorite in no small parts due to all those hints at Le nozze di Figaro, came out radiantly colored and smartly paced. The collaboration between piano and orchestra was organic and respectful, and strove on subtlety.
After the 18th century tasteful refinement of Mozart’s piano concerto, we all braced ourselves for the 19th century dark thunder of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. Once the intermission was over, an impressive number of musicians packed the large stage, and we were off for a deeply immersive journey that even in its most relaxed moments – I am thinking especially of the pizzicatos playfully opening the second movement – simply would not let off.
I am not a huge Bruckner fan, but I have to admit that his Ninth Symphony is something else by its scope, force and diversity. On the other hand, I am not going to lament on what the composer’s untimely death has deprived us of because the three movements altogether generally clock in at one hour already. Under the exceptionally firm baton of maestro Eschenbach the orchestra played with tightness and vigor, keeping the audience on their toes, come hell or high water, while expertly taking us to a nobly beautiful finish line. Unplanned maybe, but remarkably fitting.