Poor Haydn, buried between the Gargantuas, Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra" and Liszt's "Les Preludes." But it was Haydn's fragile Symphony No. 96 that drew the afternoon's bravos yesterday at the New York Philharmonic's concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, a testimonial to the artistry of both the composer and the performers.
Not that either the Strauss or the Liszt came up short. Both were accorded the sort of expansive yet controlled readings that conductor Zubin Mehta is famous for. With wind sections as talented as the Philharmonic's, Mehta is able to coax just about any sonority he desires from the orchestra, and he has a very clear idea of what these sonorities should be.
It was in the movement of these big pieces that the performances were not always totally satisfying. The deliberate pacing of the Strauss shouldn't have robbed the music of its urgency and passion, but in this performance it did. And in the Liszt, the dotted rhythms found the short notes robbed of their sharpness. These may be details, but they can be the difference between good and great playing.
In the Haydn on the other hand, these details were attended to. The last movement danced with delightful elan, and if the trio of the minuet was unusually slow, there was a purpose and a logic to this pacing. Thus the bravos.