When Mahler's wife heard the first rehearsal of her husband's Fifth Symphony, she burst into tears and reported that all she could hear was the percussion. She said that the piece sounded like a tympany concerto. Mahler listened to what she had to say and started revising. He revised the orchestration for years, and for years no two consecutive performances were of the same version.
What the New York Philharmonic played at Wolf Trap last night sounded like anything but a percussion concerto. Under the baton of conductor Klaus Tennstedt, whose strength lies in eliciting the details of the inner voices, the symphony was projected rather as a gigantic concerto for orchestra. v
Certainly the large broad climaxes were impressive, although this kind of bombast is not Tennstedt's strong point. But much more impressive was the interplay of solo instruments. The winds had a field day, particularly hornist Philip Myers, who milked his horn for every last ounce of expressiveness. And, in a role that was distinctly subordinate, the strings distinguished themselves, especially the cellos in their lovely second movement song.
Tennstedt was not quite as successful in giving meaning and direction to bridge passages that often seemed indecisive and at loose ends.
A solemn and rather dull performance of Beethoven's "Coriolanus" overture began the evening.