In his opening remarks, Noseda described the works as “strange symphonies” — though, given their ongoing popularity, perhaps it is the defined parameters of the form that need adjusting. But the Schubert did, in the end, seem a bit anomalous. Conductor and orchestra seemed to flip between two channels: gentle and detailed, with some beautifully shaped phrases, and forceful and heavy, with an exciting but two-dimensional brass-forward sound. In the second of the two movements, Noseda kept the rhythms and tempo largely straightforward, with little Romantic push-and-pull, creating an appealing, plain-spoken rhetoric that, nevertheless, left the music wanting peroration. More than usual, one felt the symphony’s incompleteness.
For a while, one felt Mahler’s surfeit as well. The Fifth sprawls across three parts and five movements, with numerous jump cuts and sharp turns along the way. His symphonies, more than most, can tempt interpreters to miss the forest for the trees — few other composers filled their groves with more distractingly interesting plantings — and, for three movements, the performance succumbed. The playing was accomplished but often unbalanced: With trumpeter William Gerlach and hornist Abel Pereira leading the way, the brass was in particularly fine form, but also tended to take over the discussion, even in secondary lines. And, although there were thrilling passages (the hymnlike climax of the second movement and the ending of the third-movement Scherzo were brawny and grand), the rendition seemed to be localized, proceeding moment by meticulous moment, without much sense of one moment leading into the next.
But then, in the famous Adagietto — a single, drawn-out moment, essentially — a longer narrative finally emerged, with an exquisitely shaped trajectory. The momentum carried through to the finale, and with the balance reoriented around the strings, the thread of the music turned long and tightly drawn, a building chain of setup and payoff. The result was a rousing ride and a pinnacled finish. The traditional show-business catechism instructs the performer to leave ’em wanting more. Thursday’s concert argued for a timely realization of the complete package.