The first half was the music of Antonin Dvorak, a fair amount of which will pass across NSO stands over the next few weeks. (It is, one surmises, a tuneup for Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which, after performances here at the end of February, will anchor the NSO’s Asia tour in March.) Eschenbach brought back his preferred orchestra layout: violins on either side of the podium, basses to the left, horns to the right, the rest of the brass and the percussion centered across the back of the stage. The setup pushed the tone forward — brass and woodwinds became a flying wedge, breaking through the line of the proscenium — a brawny, punchy sound that was exploited to the hilt in a brisk, brash reading of Dvorak’s Op. 92 Carnival Overture.
Christian Tetzlaff was the soloist in Dvorak’s Op. 53 Violin Concerto. Tetzlaff’s intellect is in constant motion; the fascination of this performance was noticing where his attention fell. Sometimes it was opportunities for projection and volume, in the face of Eschenbach’s attentive but not always understated accompaniment. The score presents numerous opportunities for out-and-out fiddling — its Czech folk background repeatedly pushing its way to the fore — and Tetzlaff dug into them with a kind of urbane rusticity. But most interesting was the restless edge in much of the virtuoso passagework, as if Tetzlaff was impatient to discharge the fireworks and get back to weaving lyrical lines in and out of the orchestra. Those stretches of ad hoc chamber music were the concerto’s high points.
After intermission came Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony. The playing bore traces of on-the-fly preparation. It wasn’t completely crisp; repeated passages were often noticeably more tight the second time around. But the warm, generous tone was engaging.
In a way, the symphony itself adopts the sort of repertory orchestra role in which the program cast the NSO: Schumann weaving a web of allusion and quotation around his heart-on-sleeve style, the patronage of Bach and Beethoven putting a resilient frame around the effusion. The performance likewise cushioned exuberance with restraint, Eschenbach’s patient pace and affectionately emphasized detail yielding a clutch of lovely and arresting moments. (Parts of the slow movement were especially sensational.) The masters Schumann invoked — and Schumann himself — have only grown older and more reflexively hallowed. At its best, the concert glimpsed them as living, voluble company.
The program repeats Saturday at 8 p.m.