After an impressive Sunday afternoon of Webern, Schubert, and Brahms, the Bamberg Symphony outdid themselves Monday evening in repertoire by Beethoven and Ives, and another Schubert symphony. Christian Zacharias again joined Maestro Jonathan Nott, this time for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4. They then concluded their appearance in Lincoln Center’s Great Performers Season with The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives and Schubert’s Symphony in B minor, “Unfinished”.

The titles of the two works heard on the second half of the program point toward inconclusiveness. Indeed, though, the most ambiguous opening of any Classical-period piano concerto (and of many more concerti, generally speaking) belongs to Beethoven’s Fourth. The piano begins with an intimate statement lasting a few bars and ending on a dominant harmony, and the orchestra then repeats the theme in a distant key before finally cadencing in G major. Everything about this, not least having the solo instrument play first, was unprecedented in 1806. The piece is full of searching: the slow movement is a dialogue between the orchestra and piano (fate versus free will, in one interpretation), fraught with drama and resolving into hopelessness after a mere few minutes of struggle; and the finale jovially explores the wrong-key effect of the first movement, with Beethoven now laughing at his earlier poignancy.

A fragmentary nature unites the Ives and Schubert pieces performed. The Unanswered Question conjures up a tranquil, dreamlike state and ultimately fades back into the silence from whence it came, no more resolved than at the outset (and perhaps less so). And although Schubert had six years left to live, he never returned to the score of his Symphony in B minor to complete the final two movements. That being said, this music is too lovely to ignore and has long been one of his most popular works. Besides, there’s something touching about the ending of the second movement, trailing off into serenity in much the same way as the Ives.

Mr. Zacharias favored a brisk tempo in the opening movement of the Beethoven. He sculpted phrases with the orchestra more often than he stood out in contrast to them, and his timbres in all pianistic textures found matching counterparts in the orchestra. He and Mr. Nott kept the “con moto” in the Andante con moto second movement, which is almost always taken unjustifiably slowly when compared with similar movements by Beethoven (the slow movement of the Appassionata sonata, for example). However, I would have preferred a slower tempo than the animated feeling that this more fluid pulse provoked. The concluding Vivace was comfortable and charming, with Mr. Zacharias in constant communication with the orchestra, even adding syncopated bass notes during a couple of orchestral tuttis. (Giving structural outlines with bass notes like this was common performance practice in playing Mozart concerti, mostly to aid in conducting the ensemble from the keyboard. I can’t say for sure if Mr. Zacharias was taking a liberty based on that idea, or – less likely – if there is an extant score of the concerto which incorporates these notes.)

The Bambergers’ lone departure from Austro-German fare was a successful one. The strings in The Unanswered Question provide an otherworldly backdrop, like a choral hymn heard from far away and in slow motion, and this evening they maintained a shimmering tone and excellent intonation at a barely audible dynamic. This captured perfectly the special effect of “white noise” Ives evokes. The woodwinds were charismatic and extroverted while never harsh, and the offstage trumpet solo was understated and mysterious. Mr. Nott grasped perfectly the simultaneous levels in Ives’ music, and allowed disparate ideas to coexist, to enchanting effect.

The beginning of the Schubert responded to Ives’ Question with yet another. The Bamberg’s bass section made the opening line haunting and pregnant with possibility. Mr. Nott had his orchestra’s intensity bursting at the seams of late-Classical/early-Romantic style, never spilling over into anachronism or poor taste. Phenomenal ensemble playing reigned supreme, as it had on Sunday. You could literally hear the orchestra breathe together before a series of forte chords in the first movement. No matter how individually unsatisfying certain parts may have been to play, these musicians displayed an engagement with the music at all times; material of secondary and tertiary importance was brought to life, and the entire performance benefitted.

As an encore Mr. Nott led the orchestra in more Schubert, this time from his incidental music to Rosamunde. If I may be forgiven for sounding like a broken record: the winds were extraordinary, the strings as unified and sympathetic as in a quartet, and all was rendered with eloquence. With any luck, those on hand in New York won’t be the only stateside listeners privileged to hear the Bamberg Symphony in the near future.

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