A Happy Orchestra

by Sedgwick Clark

The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra were all smiles at their most recent Carnegie Hall concert, on Monday, February 3. Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin led Smetana’s The Moldau, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Radu Lupu as soloist, and Dvořák’s sunny Symphony No. 6. It’s a happy orchestra now, after several years of economic and artistic uncertainty, and players and audience appear quite satisfied with their new maestro.

I was happy throughout most of this appealingly conservative program, too, but I was also surprised to hear forced and unblended string sonority at times, and by a lack of quiet playing. Few pieces of music require a greater sense of flow than The Moldau, and to my ears, a succession of single notes often dominated a fluid line.

Bartók was on his deathbed when he composed his gentle Third Piano Concerto as a performance vehicle for his wife, pianist Ditta Pásztory-Bartók. Lupu played the work at his most recent New York appearance, as I recall. The second movement—one of Bartók’s exquisite “night music” pieces—chirped raptly in Lupu’s hands, and the closing Allegro vivace danced energetically. N-Z’s accompaniment was well judged, never overwhelming the soloist.

Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony is unfairly overshadowed by his last three masterworks of the form, and N-Z’s performance was a treat, with an especially deeply felt Adagio. The audience had offered a warm welcome to N-Z at the beginning of the concert, and it roared its approval at the end. He has New York’s Philadelphia fans on his side now.

I sometimes wondered if N-Z were trying too hard, however, unwilling to allow the mellow Romanticism to unfold naturally. I felt this when he conducted Carmen at the Met a few years ago (although his Rusalka last week was ravishing). The sound coaxed from the Philadelphians by Michael Tilson Thomas two months ago when he subbed for the indisposed N-Z at Carnegie was positively velvety in comparison (my blog, 1/9/14).

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts (8:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted):

2/9 Carnegie Hall. Garrick Ohlsson, piano. Beethoven: Sonata No. 30, Op. 109. Schubert: “Wanderer” Fantasy, D. 760. Griffes: The Night Winds; Barcarolle; The White Peacock. Chopin: Sonata No. 3, Op. 58.
2/11 Carnegie Hall. Boston Symphony/Bernard Haitink; Murray Perahia, piano. Purcell/Steven Stucky: Funeral Music for Queen Mary. Schumann: Piano Concerto. Brahms: Symphony No. 4.
2/12 Carnegie Hall. Boston Symphony/Bernard Haitink; Susan Graham, mezzo; Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Ravel: Alborado del gracioso; Shéhérazade; Daphnis et Chloé (complete).

2/13 Carnegie Hall. St. Petersburg Philharmonic/Yuri Temirkanov; Denis Kozhukhin, piano. Rimsky-Korsakov: Excerpts from The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. Kancheli: . . . al Niente. Tchaikovsky: Concerto No. 1.

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