Watching Andris Nelsons conduct is great fun. His hands flutter wildly, he crouches, he stands on his toes. He looks like he is having a much better time than anyone in the Wiener Philharmoniker ever seems to be. But it’s a measure of the musical success of his Philharmoniker debut that I did not regret having gotten up early on a Sunday morning for a trombone concerto. Much less for his absolutely spectacular Dvořák 9.
Wiener Philharmoniker 3. Soirée, Andris Nelsons, conductor; Dietmar Küblböck, trombone. Musikverein, 24/10/10. Mozart, Symphony No. 33 in B-flat major, K. 319; Tomasi, Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra; Dvořák, Symphony No. 9 in e minor, “From the New World.”
These 11:00 Sunday morning concerts are a common thing in Austria. It’s a Catholic country, but I suspect there’s a lot of Kunstreligion in these parts. Usually around this time I’m having a second cup of coffee and thinking about doing laundry, but I’m glad I dragged myself out of the house for this one.
Andris Nelsons had already had his second cup of coffee, if not his third and his fourth as well. The Latvian wunderkind is a disciple of the Faster is Better School of Conducting Prodigies (see also Nézet-Séguin, Yannick; Harding, Daniel), but there was a lot else going on here too. The program began with Mozart’s Symphony K. 319. Mozart with the Philharmoniker is inevitably a plush experience. This is not my personal preference, but Nelsons’s light and fluid approach made it an enjoyably frothy and brilliant performance in the fast movements and a clear, delicate one in the canonic entries of the slow movement. He seemed to want a more rustic character in the minuet than the orchestra was giving him, but in the last movement gathered speed like a 16-year old given a sportscar.
Henri Tomasi (1901-1971) was a new name to me, he was a mid-century French composer of exceptionally tonal music. His 1956 trombone concerto sounds like the bastard child of Gershwin and Prokofiev as raised by Poulenc. It opens with a series of recitative-like confrontations between the trombone and orchestra, but then settles into a more relaxed and melodic groove, which it more or less stays in for the rest of the three-movement piece. There’s a lot of jazzy stuff, there’s some twinkly and mechanical-sounding wind writing, there are passages that sound like trombone outtakes from An American in Paris. Nelsons conducted it with as much rhythmic verve as he could locate. It’s an enjoyable piece and Dietmar Küblböck played it with mellow command, but I don’t feel inspired to locate the rest of the Tomasi oeuvre.
The highlight of the program was the ever-popular Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” of Antonin Dvořák. Nelsons conducted it with Brahmsian attention to rhythmic detail and texture, bringing out unexpected inner voices and harmonies that are usually lost behind the big tunes. Except for the trio of the Scherzo, nothing sounded folksy at all. As an orchestral musician I have been around the Dvořák 9 block and heard things I have never heard before: the first movement development emerged as a developing variation between strings and brass, a trilling string accompaniment figure in the second movement foreshadowed the birds near the end of the movement. The last movement was, yes, very fast, but also Nelsons finally seemed to get a sharp-edged violence from the orchestra that never turned heavy. Great all around.
Nelsons and the Philharmoniker repeat this program in the Musikverein on Tuesday and on tour in Japan next week. I, on the other hand, will be in Bavaria on Tuesday to see Rusalka and can only hope that soprano Kristine Opolais proves as adept a Dvořák interpreter as her boyfriend is.
Photos: Royal Academy of Music/Telegraph. As you probably guessed from the empty seats and lady violinist in the first row, that photo is not of the Philharmoniker.