In their second concert program of this year’s Salzburg Festival, the Vienna Philharmonic not only played “Zeit mit Bartok” on Sunday, but above all with Andris Nelsons – and that’s always good for this orchestra. Under his careful, detailed direction, they revealed to a delighted audience Gustav Mahler’s wing-beating powers in his 5th symphony and messenger pianist Yefim Bronfman’s powerful defiance in Bartok’s 2nd piano concerto.
Whoever wants to spend “time with Bartok” – like the festival focus of the same name – first needs a pianist who can keep up with the most virtuoso colleague of his time. Bartok created his piano works primarily for his own use: as breakneck solo material for his performance with orchestra. In Salzburg, Bronfman, a Bartok pro, plays this solo part, which, compared to the Bartok concerts, is one of the easier, but overall still one of the most difficult things you can do on the piano. A fast-paced adventure with a constant risk of falling – Bronfman not only manages the party, he has internalized it so much that he seems to be breathing it out.
The second half belongs to Gustav Mahler, and this shows once again why Andris Nelsons is such a blessing for the Philharmoniker, especially during the busy summer time in Salzburg. The Latvian conductor – boss of two of the most traditional ensembles in the world with the Boston Symphony and Gewandhaus Orchestra – adores the sound qualities of the Viennese in his calm, relaxed art, without using them as the only arguments in the field. This pays off in the core repertoire – Mahler: Nelsons goes into the first movement cautiously, sluggishly, trotting quickly, builds his bow so big that he seems to still be able to do it in between, and slows down the enamel of the strings and woodwind balsam until one can long for them .
Instead, he pays great attention to detail with a high degree of tenderness, builds elaborate pedestals for the brass instruments for their solos, lets the scherzo sparkle here and there with flashing rubatos and sends the adagietto ever higher into the sky with tiny wing beats. Rarely can this well-known movement from Mahler’s oeuvre be modeled in such detail, so precisely, so transparently and at the same time so deeply uncheesy. And in the finale, too, Nelsons resists the temptation to use grand gestures in the synthesis, but remains in tension, remains listening, with gentle vigilance, which gives the baton a small one, even in the grand movement. Erupting cheers, long applause.