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Or perhaps Yannick Nézet-Séguin's interpretation of the Brahms Fourth Symphony on October 27 really was one of the most intense and profound performances of this work— or any work, for that matter— that I've ever witnessed.
Several friends have told me that when Nézet-Séguin conducted the Brahms Requiem last season, it was as if they had never truly experienced the work before. Sad to say, I missed that performance, but now I think I know what they meant.
Details I'd never noticed
Nézet-Séguin's version of the Brahms Fourth reminded me of one of my most vivid memories from my 1950s adolescence in New York City: seeing Carnegie Hall's beautiful façade for the first time after sandblasting had cleared it of decades of accumulated urban grime. It wasn't just the intensity of the playing; Nézet-Séguin revealed architectural musical details, both large and small, that I'd never noticed before, especially in the slow movement.
Before this evening, my gold standard for this work was Simon Rattle's interpretation of it with the Philadelphia Orchestra in February 2006. As I wrote then (click here), on that occasion Rattle exerted almost no physical energy in eliciting a magical performance. Clearly, he was just overseeing the delivery of whatever ideas he had communicated in rehearsal.
With my eyes closed
But "cool restraint" is not an expression one would use to describe Nézet-Séguin's conducting style. It was fitting that he conducted Leonard Bernstein's Serenade before the intermission, because Yannick's physicality is very reminiscent of Lenny's at the helm of the New York Philharmonic, back in the day. Several times I closed my eyes to verify that the visual sideshow wasn't distorting my musical experience.
As I've probably said several times already in BSR, despite my decades of experience as an audience member and as a choral singer, it's still a mystery to me exactly how conductors influence great orchestras— exactly how they're able to elicit the best from elite professionals. I'm sure, though, that unless you've earned an orchestra's respect by proving your musicianship, and unless you've communicated your musical ideas at rehearsal, gesticulations will earn you nothing but the players' disdain and ridicule.
Nézet-Séguin has obviously passed that test with flying colors; as I watched and heard this performance unfold, I thought: "Man, they really love playing for him!"♦
To read another review by Robert Zaller, click here.
To read another review by Tom Purdom, click here.
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