Mälkki chisels from Haydn’s modest score an aerodynamic, white marble sculpture. Tension and repose in equal measure.


Brian Taylor

“Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 22 in E-flat Major, dubbed “The Philosopher,” finds a chamber-sized slice of the Philharmonic onstage. Mälkki, deliberate and poised, crafts a stylish, elegant reading of this 1764 Haydn symphony that begins with a noble Adagio, and progresses concisely through three quicker, jauntier movements.

The symphony has one foot planted in the Baroque. The scoring is unusual: strings and continuo (doubled in the bassoon, and harmonized lightly by harpsichord), two horns, and instead of a woodwind section, just two English horns. The resulting timbre is dark and rich. Mälkki chisels from Haydn’s modest score an aerodynamic, white marble sculpture. Tension and repose in equal measure.

[…] Šu refers to the Egyptian mythological symbol for “air,” for it is air that activates the sheng, and air that goes on a rhythmic adventure in Chin’s riveting dreamscape. Mälkki maintained tight cohesion with Wu Wei’s athletic performance. A panoply of percussion, such as bongos, congas, thunder sheet, water gong, and Javanese gongs, is employed generously yet surreptitiously.

This was a gripping, virtuosic performance by soloist and orchestra alike, introducing the audience to an instrument rarely heard on these stages, not with a piece of kitsch, but a vital work of contemporary art. An enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience seemed to shout, “more please!” And, in turn, Wu Wei delighted with an impressive encore.

[..] The opening fanfare, “Sunrise,” is one of the most iconic in all of music, thanks largely to Stanley Kubrick. New York’s brass and percussion triumphed. The final, oh-so-satisfying C major chord, sent goosebumps down my spine, the entire room ablaze in a brightly glowing fortissimo. You might not think an orchestra could play any louder without shattering smartphone glass. But, wait until later, when Strauss indicates a dynamic level of fortissISSimo!

But the real pleasure in the Philharmonic’s high level of playing is not in amplitude. Rather it’s in the details: quick phrases that accelerate from pianissimo to fortissimo with focused power, and the breadth of skill individual players contribute, such as principal cello Carter Brey’s meaty solo that segues from “The Dirge” to the chocolaty choir of low strings that begins “Of Science.” Mälkki’s clear-headed direction keeps the piece from sagging, even in the noodly middle passages. The piece ponders deep, philosophical questions. But it provides no answer — Mälkki conducts the enigmatic ending matter-of-factly. All the better to leave the audience ruminating.”

Brian Taylor, Cadenza