Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 hurdled along in its usual constant state of transition in a good medium-voltage performance. The relaxed tempo, perhaps reflecting a post-Thanksgiving tryptophan effect, did not entirely justify itself. Generally, one had the sense that this piece had the short end of the rehearsal schedule.
The Symphony No. 8, however, was a marvel: Often considered a modest entry in Beethoven's orchestral canon, it can indeed climax a program's second half thanks to all the distinctive features uncovered by Eschenbach. Musical turning points were smartly set off by an unobtrusive tempo hiccup. The piece's witty parenthetical moments felt unusually rich. In the final movement, when the composer sends up his own endless endings while also outdoing himself by inventing even more delays to the final resolution, Eschenbach walked a line between stand-up comedy and knockout brilliance.
Incidental solos popped out with loads of personality, along with the piece's spatial elements, as Beethoven's motifs travel around from section to section of the orchestra, playing hide-and-seek. Were these Eschenbach's priorities or the improved Verizon Hall acoustics? Who cares? The audience seemed happy to have Eschenbach back.
Having bolstered my opinion by taking note of audience reaction, I now go against the prevailing listener response in Jennifer Koh's performances of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1. As much as I admire her fearlessness with contemporary music, she tore into concerto, perspiration overshadowing inspiration, bowing so hard into her strings as to drain her sound of any color. Only in the slow movement did one hear what she can do with a focused, glimmering sound that drew your ear beyond the surface of the music and into the piece. Elsewhere, her gray grind left my ears in retreat until the orchestral outbursts.
And the Dvorak quintet? The Mozartean precision of Eschenbach's pianism was most welcome, even amid the piano's dampened sound and the quartet's fallibility.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at email@example.com.