Sharing the stage that night was the visiting NDR Symphony from Hamburg, with its conductor, Christoph Eschenbach, whom every orchestra in the world seems anxious to kidnap for its own these days. As near as I could tell from a one-shot hearing -- a process complicated when the woman in J-31 smuggled her drink into the hall and chewed ice all through the Tchaikovsky (and you thought idiots only brought in cell phones!) -- the NDR is a solid, clean, precise ensemble, and is thus a fair mirror of Eschenbach‘s own strengths.
Unfortunately the program also included a work I dislike far more than the Tchaikovsky, Arnold Schoenberg’s worthless orchestration of the Brahms G-minor Piano Quartet: an overstuffed monstrosity imposed upon a work that, in its original condition, is one of the less-unlistenable of Brahms‘ chamber works. What Schoenberg has done -- most likely to attach his name to a piece that might pass for pretty and thus earn performances -- is to inflate to one further stage the worst aspects of Brahms’ own orchestral writing. How bad the latter can be was nicely underlined in the dances by Dvorak and Smetana that the NDR played as encores: beautifully shaped, mellow orchestrations full of built-in smiles. The orchestra was scheduled to play a better program the next night in Costa Mesa, but Britten beckoned.