Yannick in Philly

by Sedgwick Clark

Tuesday night’s first Philadelphia Orchestra concert in New York was exciting for several reasons. First and foremost, it featured a Verdi Requiem in Carnegie Hall. For others, it was a proving ground for Yannick Nézet-Séguin as a simpatico music director for the Orchestra at last. A short, compact, 36-year-old Montreal native, with a penchant for ugly ties, he veritably bristles with quick-step intensity, and the Philadelphians were with him all the way.

From the opening pianissimo notes, played at an achingly slow tread, to the most eruptive attacks in the Dies Irae, the players never made an infelicitous sound, never forced their tone or scrunched their bows. The winds were more forwardly balanced and exhibited more character than I recall from this ensemble in Carnegie (perhaps from playing in Verizon Hall, where their clarity is extraordinary). The brass were never rasping or overbearing, and those glorious strings held their own in the most massive Verdi tuttis. For the conductor’s part, the music always breathed but never to the point of distortion. There was no point making or personalization of the line, just good, solid, communicative musicianship, well within the boundaries of tradition—even in his opening Molto Adagio (cf. Reiner’s recording) rather than Verdi’s simple Andante (Toscanini).

Of the vocalists, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice stood out for her expressive shaping of phrases. Soprano Marina Poplavskaya was the most dramatic, soaring in her high register and contributing a rivetingly personal Libera me. The men were less impressive, singing at a generally unvarying forte most of the evening. Bass Mikhail Petrenko was not always audible in ensembles, and Rolando Villazón was often effortful. One pulled for the Mexican tenor in (I believe) his return to New York after several years of vocal problems, but the two inaudible trills in his “Hostias” solo were only the most conspicuous disappointments. The Westminster Symphonic Choir, directed by Joe Miller, sounded exceptionally impressive, with the basses especially sonorous.

Throughout the Philadelphia Orchestra’s administrative and artistic discord of the past decade—which included a five-year mismatch with Christoph Eschenbach, bankruptcy, four years of often distinguished performances with Charles Dutoit as interim “chief conductor” while the Orchestra looked for a permanent music director, and a new administration under Alison Vulgamore that paved the way to fiscal balance—the players remained on top of their form.

And now we’re on to the Yannick (pron. Yan-NEEK) Years. Philly audiences are turned on again, and we’ll be listening with interest for enlightened programming and a sense of conductorial structure in the symphonic repertory—a major downfall for some of our most talented young conductors. The ball’s in your court, maestro.

Talk About a Great Program

On Saturday night, Robert Spano brings the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus to Carnegie for Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. See you there!

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

10/26 at 7:30. Zankel Hall. American Composers Orchestra/José Serebrier; Sharon Bezaly, flute. Serebrier: Flute Concerto with Tango. Narong Prangcharoen: The Migration of Lost Souls. Milica Paranosic: The Tiger’s Wife. Gabriela Lena Frank: Manchay Tiempo. Ives: Symphony No. 3 (“The Camp Meeting”).

10/27 Carnegie Hall. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Spano. Copland: Appalachian Spring. Bernstein: Chichester Psalms. Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast.

10/29 Juilliard School. A Celebration of Rudolf Firkušny. 7:00 Paul Hall. Bach: Chorale Prelude, BWV 659, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (arr. Busoni); Liszt: Transcendental Etude, No. 9, La Ricordanza (Eduardus Halim, piano). Chopin: Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante (Avner Arad, piano). Janáček: Piano Sonata, 1.X. 1905 (Charles Albright, piano). Martinů: Fantaisie et toccata (Sara Davis Duechner, piano).

10/31 Carnegie Hall. Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev. Shchedrin: The Little Hunchbacked Horse Suite. Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6. R. Strauss: Ein Heldenleben.

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