With the opening downbeat of Weber's "Freischu tz" overture (a whisper growing rapidly into a crescendo), guest conductor Klaus Tennstedt announced that the Philadelphia Orchestra's concert, last night in the Kennedy Center, would be a special event.
The first glowing entry of the horns adumbrated that announcement; the sound was mellow, singing, yet also portentous. It was the most Brahmsian reading of this work I have ever heard. So, unfortunately, was Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, which followed. Both works forecast (correctly) a fine experience in the actual Brahms piece, the Fourth Symphony, which closed the program.
The Weber and Brahms, at the beginning and end, enclosed the Prokofiev like good bread on a slightly soggy sandwich filling. The Prokofiev, with Schlomo Mintz as a very proficient soloist, was somewhat more polished but less energetic and involved than Washington audiences have come to expect in Russian repertoire. Tennstedt maintained good balances and a credible pace, but the fireworks were muted.
The Brahms was as glorious as predicted, though slightly loose-jointed at the beginning, with one or two phrases that sounded almost like a foretaste of Mahler. The horns in the second movement fulfilled the promise given earlier. The scherzo had all the high energy that was not quite present in the Prokofiev, and the finale flirted with but ultimately avoided the special problems of that movement's structure. It can easily tempt a conductor into lingering slightly too long over elaborate details, looking a bit too closely and losing momentum and a sense of continuity. Tennstedt hovered over some passages with brooding concentration, but he preserved the movement's unity.
In a program that leaped from the beginning to the end of the Romantic tradition, he seemed intent on showing the essential unity of that style across nearly a century of development. And if this effort gave the Weber piece a bit more gravity than it normally has, almost making it a Major Statement, the effect was not unpleasant nor unjustified by the music.
The performances were among the most credible given here by the Philadelphia in this rather protean season. Tennstedt's sound (not always like the Philadelphia sound of past seasons) was obviously what he wanted and a thought-provoking, often compelling experience.