Review: An Absent Player in the Spotlight at the Philharmonic

The Philharmonic had never performed the symphony before Wednesday, and under Glover’s baton it flowed with the same nimble, unaffected naturalness as the rest of the program: four pieces, including three Mozart symphonies, from the final three decades of the 18th century. Glover’s tempos throughout the concert were sensible and unexaggerated, with ample room to breathe but no dragging, and the playing was lovely — though the violins sometimes took on a slightly thin, wiry edge, highlighted by the cool clarity of Geffen Hall’s acoustics.

In the work not by Mozart — Beethoven’s “Ah! perfido,” a concert scene from five years after Mozart’s death but still very much within the world of his opera arias — the orchestra provided sensitive accompaniment for the soprano Karen Slack. Making her Philharmonic debut, she inhabited the piece’s shifting moods, from anger at a treacherous lover to vulnerability to proud resolution, with strikingly clear high notes by the end.

The other two Mozart symphonies on the program — No. 35 in D (“Haffner,” K. 385) and No. 39 in E flat (K. 543) — are far better known than No. 13. And, however charming that youthful work, they dwarf it in complexity and beauty. In grandeur, too, though Glover, returning to the Philharmonic after conducting Handel’s “Messiah” in 2015 and experienced in music of the Classical period, tended not to emphasize that quality.

These performances were modest from their openings, with the start of the “Haffner” more warm than bracing, and that of No. 39 more conversational than majestic. The fourth movement of the “Haffner,” four perfect minutes of Mozartian energy and elegance, was brisk and lyrical, rather than punchy or boisterous.

The Symphony No. 39 is one of the great trio of 1788 pieces that were the capstone of Mozart’s career in this genre. On Wednesday, the winds were tender in the slow second movement, and the lilting ländler dance of the third was played with both delicacy and good humor. The finale spoke for the concert as a whole: spirited yet comfortable.

New York Philharmonic

This program continues through Friday at David Geffen Hall, Manhattan; nyphil.org.

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