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The Right Stuff in Philly

Verizon Hall
11/05/2011 -  
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV 550
Johannes Brahms: A German Requiem, Op. 45

Matthias Goerne (baritone), Dorothea Röschmann (soprano)
The Westminster Symphonic Choir, Joe Miller (director), The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

Y. Nézet-Séguin (Courtesy of PO)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is getting closer to his full directorship of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but he’s wasting no time putting his imprimatur on them and not insignificantly, reaching out in various ways to attract diverse audiences. It is not premature to say that he has been embraced as “the one” to bring in a new era for the Fab Phils. Since his last appearance here in April, the orchestra has been riding out an avalanche of rumors over their bankruptcy, contract disputes and the inevitable rumblings about the viability of their future.

Yannick (he gamely encourages a first name basis with everybody)’s mere presence apparently breaks through all of that roiling drama. Audiences are responding to his personality, talent, and consistent musical signatures- his penchant for large symphonic-choral works and distinctive orchestral contours in a broad range of repertoire. And in instrumentation, there is more sonority in the lower strings and both forceful stability in the horns.

At the November 5 program, it was business as usual as Yannick unceremoniously strolled onstage completely at ease. He may not have maestro divo hair, but he looks dashing in his at-ease snug Hugo Boss-y satin lapel suit. The orchestra instantly ignited Mozart’s Symphony No 40, with an intensity that grabbed the audience by the throat. Yannick’s interpretive strengths showed throughout this piece. The orchestra going past the surface polish to its deeper, more fiery musical core. A scaled, repositioned string section fueling a pulsing rhythmic tension and the woodwinds aggressively accented. Outstanding passages by Jeffrey Khaner, principal flute and Ricardo Morales, oboe; not to mention the inestimable Jennifer Montone’s French horn, which is just revelatory.

Last spring, Yannick built the profound and concussive architecture of Mozart’s Requiem, but not without jarring bumps along the way. The audience obviously didn’t focus on any deficiencies, giving him six curtain calls. In the Brahms’ Requiem, there also were choral-orchestral balance issues, but mostly, Yannick enticed a tempered, cohesive splendor. The more complex vocal requirements in the Brahms had both intimate and universal dimension. Westminster choir director Joe Miller brings grounded humanity to this Requiem. Brahms’ relationship to the orchestral stream is complex, though there was a few vaporous moments, the 150 member Westminster impresses with its character.

Baritone Matthias Goerne crafted a dramatic and captivating performance. Dorothea Röschmann, a soprano, positioned in the choir loft, sublime in her maternal dialogues with the women’s’ choir especially, but her distance from the audience worked against her dramatic subtleties and projection. Minor quibbles, without doubt. When you see the full houses and rapturous receptions, not mention Yannick's obvious passion to deliver every dimension of the music, the future might be now.

Lewis Whittington



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