By Don Heckman
A well-crafted Concerto, performed in articulate fashion, with precise accompaniment. Admirable for the proficiency with which it was done, by the ever virtuosic Yo Yo Ma as well as the Philharmonic. There is, after all, something to be said for hearing all the right notes in all the right places. But one might have hoped for a performance that found more of the life between the notes, as well.
Schumann reportedly was not fond of applause between movements, so he stipulated that the Concerto be performed without breaks. As it was by Yo Yo Ma and the Philharmonic. In addition to the avoidance of misplaced applause, the benefit was a broader overview of the entire work. And that may have been the most intriguing aspect of the performance, which matched a bland but well-constructed composition with a technically adroit but emotionally monochromatic interpretation.
Not so for the evening’s other work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. One of the most-often performed pieces in the classical symphonic repertoire, it provides challenging demands for orchestra and conductor. The composer himself related it to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and other observers have found similarities in the use of “fate” or “destiny” motives as well as an overall heroic sense of scale.
It’s also a work that can tempt a conductor into areas of dramatic excess. But, to Dudamel’s credit, he shaped the Philharmonic’s performance into well-balanced expressiveness. Finding the Symphony’s rich, Russian roots, contrasting the poignant lyricism of the 2nd movement Andantino with the surging textures of the pizzicato 3rd movement Scherzo, he brought the performance to an appropriately climactic ending with the roaring pyrotechnic final Allegro of the 4th movement.
In sum, both the substance of the Symphony No. 4 and the Philharmonic’s performance of it offered an effective contrast to the crisp but dispassionate efficiency of the Schumann Concerto. And a welcome one.