After the bold individualism in his Philadelphia Orchestra program last weekend, conductor Gianandrea Noseda's Mahler
Symphony No. 5
Thursday night arrived with high expectations.
Audiences come to this piece loaded for bear, spiritually speaking. Its "Adagietto" is nothing if not classical music's great inspirational altarpiece.
Noseda, though, was doggedly earthbound (his eyes often score-bound).
His was a rather objective view. He passed over chances for wrenching moments of transition in the first movement, and led the "Adagietto" with momentum held in higher esteem than spiritualism. It was all fine - but fine, in a composer from whom listeners have come to expect profound, feels slightly thin.
This was, after all, a highly familiar score to the orchestra; any liberties would have been easily absorbed. Noseda was lucky to have such surety.
Both in solos as conspicuous as principal hornist Jennifer Montone's, as well as in supporting roles such as the deliciously sturdy bottom voicing of contrabassoonist Holly Blake, the ensemble was on its mettle. Principal oboist Richard Woodhams, instrument held high, was the source of clarion bursts. Principal trumpeter David Bilger brought a marvelously dark sound to the opening of the funeral march.
The program's first half offered what the orchestra claimed as the first-ever appearance of a tuba concerto in one of its subscription concerts (it's not clear whether George Kleinsinger's "Tubby the Tuba" was considered).
The soloist was Carol Jantsch, the orchestra's principal - and only - tuba player, in Michael Daugherty's Reflections on the Mississippi, a work written for and premiered by her with the Temple University orchestra in 2013.
Daugherty has a great feel for specific nooks of Americana - he once wrote a symphony inspired by Superman - and this concerto manages to make the tuba the unlikely vehicle for serving up the aural equivalent of comfort food.
The opening movement, "Mist," is so dreamy and twinkly it makes you want to pull the covers up and snuggle in. The entire piece has a filmic and often bluesy quality, two characteristics handled beautifully by Jantsch.
Standing in front of the orchestra, she had a solid 20 minutes to show what is otherwise knowable only in bits and pieces: her evenly gorgeous tone in all registers, some lovely phrasing, and an easy technique that should be impossible on a bundle of shiny tubing the size of a subcompact hybrid.