Caution is futile in the rollicking finale of Brahms's Second Symphony. After a halting start, the movement is mostly an all-out sprint. The players can do little but rely on prior rehearsal and throw themselves headlong into the dash. Even the best orchestras sometimes sound scrappy here, in the good cause of ebullience.
When the New York Youth Symphony reached this point at the end of its program in Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon, the sense of release was almost palpable. The movement produced some of the concert's sloppiest moments, with slurred passage work and barely suggested syncopations, but the players' joyous abandon proved irresistible.
The earlier movements of the Brahms, though somewhat more tidily played, sounded tight and forced, missing the work's quintessential ease. As usual, Samuel Wong, the orchestra's music director, had prepared his forces beautifully. But for all the symphony's familiarity, this is demanding music that mercilessly exposes almost everyone at some point or other, and the group never quite relaxed, perhaps dreading the next rhythmic trick lying in wait.
The string sound lacked necessary warmth, too, a problem that probably stemmed as much from the inferior quality of some instruments as from the inexperience of the players. Still, the performance as a whole was always respectable, and individual efforts stood out, like Hideaki Okada's oboe solos in the third movement.
Jessica Guideri, a 16-year-old member of the orchestra, gave a lovely account of Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1. Technically, there was little to fault beyond an occasional mistuned note or passage and a slight derailment in the finale. And though Ms. Guideri will undoubtedly find greater depth in this music in years to come, she already had much to say. The orchestra gave a robust accompaniment under its assistant conductor, Anthony Aibel.
Michael Ruszczynski's "Mid-night Scherzo," commissioned by the orchestra, rounded out the program. The seven-minute work is intended, the 28-year-old composer writes, as a movement of a symphony still to be created. Colorful and eclectic, the piece is skillfully orchestrated and a bit slick. Though it might make a pleasant intermezzo in a larger work, it is a mere wisp on its own.
Mr. Wong conducted a fine performance, it seemed. It was hard to be sure, since the quiet pizzicatos of the opening and much that followed were covered by audience noise. There are times when the formality of the concert setting should give way, and this was one of them. If, instead of simply waiting for the audience to quiet down and glaring through the back of his head, Mr. Wong had faced the audience and explained that what was to follow would be very quiet and needed silence, it might just have worked.