Youthful embraces and lonely leave-taking occupied each half of the Philadelphia Orchestra's Thursday concert at the Kimmel Center with an unexpectedly particular characteristic in common: Unguarded emotionalism unlike anything else heard from the respective composers, whether in Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 1 or Bruckner's Symphony No. 9.
Smartly devised by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the concert had long-term contour, starting with Barber's famous Adagio for Strings burning slowly from within, its pathos-ridden climax downplayed so as not to detract from the Bartok concerto that followed - whose first movement is a long, fearlessly rhapsodic song, sounding little like the mature composer who filtered emotions through ingenious structure.
Nézet-Séguin connected with the piece more than guest soloist Lisa Batiashvili, a superb world-class violinist who played with wonderful lyrical sweetness while the conductor found certain momentousness in the most unimposing oboe entrance.
Like the program's other works, the three-movement Bruckner symphony doesn't fall into a conventional format, and when last heard here under Jaap van Zweden in 2009, was a clear, clean triptych of intricate musical architecture. Instead, Nézet-Séguin mined the piece's narrative, showing how much this stands apart from Bruckner's others.
The third movement was divided into three sections by daring rhetorical pauses signaling structural turning points in the music, but also feeling like the switchback turns on a long mountain trail - this one into the hereafter - with moments of agony and trepidation. All Bruckner symphonies involve a religious quest, but Nézet-Séguin touched on an element I don't hear in others: religious doubt and the profound loneliness that comes with it. Other Bruckner symphonies have a chorale embedded; I have yet to apprehend one in the Ninth - and felt its absence as never before.
The performance itself still had a little way to go. Augmented by Wagnerian tubas, the Philadelphia Orchestra (or any orchestra) rarely projects such a muscular sonority. Passages that always go out of tune (yes, always) did not do so Thursday. However, tension flagged occasionally in the first movement's more digressive moments. The third movement's wonderful three-note viola motif that is so haunting in Nézet-Séguin's Orchestre Metropolitain recording was fuzzy and only semi-audible. In an odd way, one was grateful the performance wasn't all it could have been. Anything so emotionally raw seems too personal to hear in public.