NEW YORK - Carnegie Hall is almost always efficacious for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Whether it's the superb acoustic or some intangible aura relating to the venue's reputed magnificence, Carnegie sends a dose of adrenaline through the ensemble.
The phenomenon has been in even greater evidence during the Christoph Eschenbach era. Witnesses cite works that registered as passable in Philadelphia, but grew to seemingly epochal importance by the time the series rolled into New York three or four performances later.
Tuesday night's Mahler Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," won't go down in orchestra history as one of those charmed Carnegie concerts, though it was spectacular in its own limited scope. It was not marred with passages in which conductor and orchestra were in apparent chaos, as players said was the case in Philadelphia Thursday and Saturday night. And yet it was not one of those Mahler 2 performances that send their message by way of frightening exactitude.
But emotional power comes in various forms, and Eschenbach found sweetness in places others have overlooked. The orchestra musicians had before them the standard parts from the Ratz edition of the symphony, but Eschenbach applied a number of note "corrections" from the newly researched score by Gilbert Kaplan (who was in the audience), according to orchestra artistic vice president Kathleen van Bergen.
Kaplan's score calls for a number of other changes that Eschenbach did not make. Instead he layered on his own mannerisms, some of which are peculiar, others of which are quite arresting. A portion of the audience applauded for seven minutes. A greater public will have its chance to react when the performances and a late-night patch session are fashioned into a "live" recording of the piece whose release is not yet scheduled.
Eschenbach's way with the first movement Tuesday night is perfectly emblematic of his approach. There was some rough playing and some lovely playing. For Eschenbach, the concept of tension and release does not play out over many bars. He seizes a moment to speed or slow, and the momentum gets spent quickly.
The pattern tends to make music of suspense sound trite, as it did in the second movement: One ridiculously goosed-up passage sped out of control.
Above all else, though, what this orchestra does well is snuggling up to a melody, and in this regard, Eschenbach's tenderness in the first few minutes of the luminous fourth movement contributed greatly to some phrases that sounded an awful lot like love.
The Philadelphia Singers Chorale, coached by music director David Hayes, could hardly have sounded more ideal. Perfectly balanced with one another and the orchestra, their sound was sturdy and present and beautiful.
What this performance did not have was soprano Barbara Bonney, who was signed to sing but whose management announced in August her withdrawal from all concerts "for the foreseeable future." It's a huge loss. Her replacement, Simona Šaturová, had a rather pale sound. Mezzo Yvonne Naef had more presence and a rich sheen.
The 90-minute work is one of those "event" pieces with musicians everywhere (organ, off-stage players). But often it was tuba player Carol Jantsch who seemed to be holding up the foundation with a sound as clear and sure as it was luxurious.