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Saturday, January 8, 2011

. . . and now the review of Nezet-Seguin's performance of the Mozart

. . . in the NY Times:

January 7, 2011

Bringing His Baton and Bold Hopes to Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Orchestra with a French accent? The notion is almost as preposterous as that of an Italianate Chicago Symphony.

But the indomitable maestro Riccardo Muti, ex of Philadelphia, is now in Chicago, undoubtedly imparting an Italian lilt and gusto as only he can. And the Philadelphia Orchestra — after 11 decades of music directors from Britain (Leopold Stokowski), Hungary (Eugene Ormandy, for 44 years), Italy (Mr. Muti) and Germany (most recently, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Christoph Eschenbach ) — has taken a turn toward the Gallic.

The ensemble has been without a music director since Mr. Eschenbach left in 2008, but the Swiss Charles Dutoit has been filling in as chief conductor, purveying works by Berlioz, Saint-Saëns and other French masters with a knowing touch. And last June the orchestra announced that the French-Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin would become music director in September 2012.

As if to drive the point home, Mr. Nézet-Séguin opened the second and last of his subscription series this season, on Thursday evening here at the Kimmel Center, with Debussy’s Nocturnes. The orchestra played with the requisite suavity, fluidity and transparency while possibly sacrificing a bit too much of its trademark plushness and heft.

Elizabeth Starr-Masoudnia was excellent in the English-horn solos. If the French feeling broke down, it was only in the finale, “Sirènes,” where the women of the Philadelphia Singers Chorale sounded a bit square and uninsinuating.

But the larger issue during a period of artistic and administrative upheaval at the Philadelphia Orchestra has been not so much how the band would emerge stylistically, but whether it would survive at all. My last experience here was in September 2009, for a season-opening (technically, preseason) concert conducted by Mr. Dutoit, and the house was less than half full.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin, 35 and dynamic, seems at least to have stirred excitement. In fact, an extra concert was added to this series, on Sunday afternoon, because of ticket demand. It didn’t hurt, certainly, that the other work on the program was Mozart’s crowd-pleasing Requiem.

Here, too, Mr. Nézet-Séguin proved willing to sacrifice some of the orchestra’s vaunted richness to another purpose. With an eye toward period practice, he reduced the ensemble to some 50 players, though using a chorus — a fuller Philadelphia Singers Chorale — more than twice that size.

Despite the chorus’s numbers, and its strength in movements like “Rex tremendae” and “Confutatis,” some of its best moments were the pianissimos at, for example, the end of the “Introitus.” And Mr. Nézet-Séguin added another of those moments at the end of the work: a surprisingly hushed and attenuated final chord.

Some pointedly detached phrasing in the Kyrie made the pleas for mercy sound more perky than anguished. And Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s pounce from the Kyrie into the Dies Irae robbed the Day of Wrath of some of its harrowing thunder.

The vocal soloists — Lucy Crowe, soprano; Birgit Remmert, mezzo-soprano; James Taylor, tenor; and Andrew Foster-Williams, bass-baritone — were good and well balanced. The orchestra played beautifully, though the trombone solo in “Tuba mirum” was less than stellar.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin and the chorus and orchestra presented an encore — just about the only one conceivable after the Requiem, Mozart’s exquisite hymn “Ave Verum Corpus” — again showing the chorus to best advantage singing in an awestruck quiet.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin was originally scheduled to make his debut at the Cleveland Orchestra this weekend but re-allotted the dates to Philadelphia after his appointment was announced, to give him a greater presence here this season. That sort of thing is not uncommon, as a matter of courtesy — or negotiation — between orchestras.

But Mr. Nézet-Séguin has definitely raised eyebrows by canceling his debut appearance with the Chicago Symphony next weekend on short notice for unspecified “personal reasons.”

He now amplifies in a statement released by the Philadelphia Orchestra: “Due to an overly taxing fall schedule, I made the extremely difficult decision to create additional time in my schedule for rest and study.”

Mr. Nézet-Séguin is evidently content to put all his American orchestral eggs in one basket, and Philadelphia, as it emerges from a painful interregnum, seems happy to have them.

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