Power and Electricity from Nézet-Séguin

United StatesUnited States Smetana, Bartók, Dvořák: Radu Lupu (piano), Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York City. 3.2.2014 (BH)

Smetana: “The Moldau” from Má vlast (1874)
Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3 (1943)
Dvořák: Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60 (1880)

This delicious evening at Carnegie Hall was not only enjoyable on its own programming terms, but showed the increasingly fertile chemistry between the Philadelphia Orchestra and its new conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In Smetana’s “The Moldau,” the ensemble’s huge sound was startling, the flutes evoking the mighty river with their best Rheingold-style flutterings. The conductor, looking dashing in an inky blue jacket, carefully shaped the phrases, balancing every section of the orchestra in dreamlike unity.

Phrasing was again paramount in Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto, with the expert hands of Radu Lupu, who seemed completely engaged. In the second movement, the visual exchanges between pianist and conductor were noticeable; at times Lupu’s disarming transparency caused the conductor to turn around, almost facing the audience, to watch admiringly. The menacing finale showed the orchestra’s suppleness with dark colors, and Lupu added deep wells of glittering tone, coupled with fastidious fingerwork.

Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony seems rare in the concert hall compared to Nos. 7, 8 and 9, and that’s a shame. It has irresistible energy and drive, and here, made a great bookend with the Smetana, its juicy harmonies showing off the orchestra’s sumptuous tone to maximum advantage. I haven’t heard this kind of power and electricity from the orchestra since Riccardo Muti led the group in the 1980s.

The Adagio glowed, with Nézet-Séguin adroitly handling the contrasts between the sly solos and peacock-like tuttis. In the thrilling Furiant, which could be an outtake from the composer’s Slavonic Dances, the orchestra actually—believe it or not—became slightly rhythmically unhinged during the excitement, but the conductor’s calm hand quickly got everyone back on track. And the pleasingly tart winds—Jeffrey Khaner’s flute, Richard Woodhams’s oboe, Ricardo Morales’s clarinet and Daniel Matsukawa’s bassoon—only added to the evening’s pleasure. By the time the finale arrived, bursting with joie de vivre, all one had to do was sit back, observe the musicians’ smiling faces and enjoy the ride.

 Bruce Hodges