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Yannick Nézet-Séguin Conducts NSO

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
The newly appointed Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic (succeeding Valery Gergiev) and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic is the impressive 33-year-old Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Nézet-Séguin energetically made up for his somewhat short stature with unbounded gestures from the shoulder at Thursday’s National Symphony Orchestra program of Russian music in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The program opened with four excerpts from Shostakovich’s suite from the film The Gadfly (op. 97), arranged by Lev Atoumian. As a composer of three dozen film scores, Shostakovich happily offered pleasant melodies with Hollywood endings while also composing his serious repertoire.

The high point of the concert was the deep tone and steady bow control of Julian Rachlin and his 1741 Guarnerius del Gesù violin in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Despite a few awkward intervals and intonation issues in the first movement, Rachlin sustained the intensity of this dark work. Rachlin’s mastery was most evident on the last note of the first movement, an extremely high long note, controlled with a dangerously slow bow speed. The soloist occasionally produced a harsh, scratching tone in the aggressive second-movement Scherzo, though in the activity of the moment, this did not take away from the overall journey. The third-movement Passacaglia’s Byzantine ground bass allowed for a sweet solo violin line to gently intertwine with other soaring wind -- bassoon in particular -- and horn counter subjects. After a progression of dissonances, the timpani gently concludes the ground bass. The segue to the final movement evolves into an extended tour-de-force violin cadenza, with the orchestra thrillingly jumping in at the last moment to begin the colorful final movement, Burlesca: Allegro con brio.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, The NSO Under a Young Baton (Washington Post, April 11)
Nézet-Séguin is highly adept at demanding intensity while containing speed. Although the NSO played well, one could observe that the conductor did not always receive the wide sound he demanded from the orchestra. Furthermore, in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, one could see much more in terms of detail and gesture from the conductor than one could hear from the orchestra. This sluggishness was further reinforced given that nearly all of the NSO musicians had their faces buried in their stands. Although the descending motif of the trumpets in the opening movement was captivating and the fluctuating tempo of the second-movement waltz was lovely, programming Rachmaninoff with Scriabin, Prokofiev, or Shostakovich will almost always undermine the Rachmaninoff – the overabundant and sometimes out-of-tune saxophone solos also did not help. The result may not be perfect, but do not miss an opportunity to experience the next generation of conductors and soloists in Washington.

This concert will be repeated on Saturday evening (April 12, 8 pm).


Edwin Ridout said...

A bit shocked to read there was something deficient about the conductor's stature. Hadn't realized there was a minimum. I thought he was the most exciting conductor to watch since Rostropovich.

Michael Lodico said...

Folks: I completely agree that the conductor was excellent.

Regarding one's height, perhaps I've been misled as nobody has spoken up when I have mentioned the subject in the past...