Another stunner from Nézet-Séguin

Yannick Nézet-Séguin demonstrates full commitment to his interpretive ideas.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin demonstrates full commitment to his interpretive ideas. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 12, 2011

In some classical music circles, the ultimate put-down is declaring some famous conductor as the world's greatest interpreter of The Pines of Rome - usually implying a shallow personality and huge ego.

Fortunately, Yannick Nézet-Séguin has solid depth credentials, if not from European radio broadcasts of his Mahler Symphony No. 9 then from last week's Brahms A German Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra. So Friday afternoon's concert at the Kimmel Center was about having some high-tone fun in a mid-to-lightweight program, ending with a Pines of Rome that left the audience pleasantly stunned, not unlike last week's German Requiem.

If there's one consistent characteristic with the orchestra's next music director, it's this: Agree or not with his interpretive ideas, he stands behind them, fully committed. No autopilot. No remembered emotion. When on the podium, he's always glimmering in some sort of magnetically charged present. He delivers a true performance.

Certainly, that's a necessary quality in Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 ("Italian"), one of those pieces that's so all-around perfect and that so easily plays itself that it's hard to get any kind of a fresh reading. Aside from bringing his characteristic energy to the situation, Nézet-Séguin particularly succeeded in two movements: The first unfolded in a relaxed tempo that conveyed undriven exuberance, while the third movement had rhythmic precision and formality that convincingly suggested that the music is descended from a Haydn-era minuet. As well as Mendelssohn wore the outer garments of alternative nationalities, he was, at heart, Germanic.

Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia, Francesca da Rimini, gives you the works, orchestrally speaking, and in a performance as compelling as Nézet-Séguin's, you might momentarily forget that the first half doesn't have much thematic content and often acts like a Tchaikovsky symphony that keeps getting lost and throwing tantrums.

Though Respighi was at his best when composing opera, his Pines of Rome tone poem took the symphonic medium to new levels of graphic description with daringly animated orchestra writing, even if, given a blindfold test, its opening could easily be describing The Fountains of Rome or Roman Festivals (the two other parts of this trilogy).

Well, so what? The piece romps through the sections of the orchestra with a distinctive orchestral palette and the grandest of endings, using a brass choir (positioned in Verizon Hall's top tier) and organ. Nézet-Séguin brought to the piece good theatrical timing and a Dutoit-esque ear for sonority.

Verdi's La Forza del Destino overture had such a concentrated treatment of the primary melody that this was no mere concert performance, but one that looked specifically forward to the opera's dramatic content, which, as the title suggests, is about unstoppable tragedy. Indeed, Nézet-Séguin often seems most at home in opera, but more than most such specialists, successfully translates that sensibility to the most serious symphonic literature. Certainly, operatic qualities were present in last week's Brahms and never felt inappropriate.


 Additional performance:


8 p.m. Saturday at the Kimmel Center, Broad and Spruce Streets. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.philorch.org.

Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

 

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