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2010.08.21 Concert Royal Albert Hall London, Proms

Prom 48

21 August 2010 7:30pm

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Simon Keenlyside
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Wagner Tannhäuser – overture (14 mins)
Mahler Rückert-Lieder (22 mins)  (SK)

interval

Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, ‘Eroica’ (50 mins)

This prom was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and can be heard again for 7 days on the BBC iPlayer.

Making its first Proms appearance with its new young Music Director, the Rotterdam Philharmonic continues the season’s Wagner series with the sweeping overture to one of his early epic dramas. They are joined by one of Britain’s most sought-after singers in Mahler’s affecting selection of Rückert poems on the subjects of life, love and death.

Initially dedicated to Napoleon (until he declared himself Emperor), Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony made a lasting revolutionary impact of its own, sustaining its heroic drama within a new scale of dramatic expression.

What the critics say

Erica Jeal, The Observer, 22 August 2010

Four stars

Yannick Nézet-Séguin has big shoes to fill at the Rotterdam Philharmonic, where he took over from Valery Gergiev in 2008. His first Prom at the orchestra’s helm was not the sensation some might have hoped for; but then Gergiev has perhaps built a solid rather than sensational orchestra, and there was still enough evidence of why the Philadelphia Orchestra has snaffled the young Canadian up as its next music director.

Wagner’s overture to Tannhäuser was very much a microcosm of the opera: the hurtling bacchanalian music was eclipsed by the godly opening chorale, which grew slowly into an impressive, sustained arc whenever it occurred.

One man who won’t have been listening is Simon Keenlyside, who will have been backstage still warming his voice up furiously in order to be able to float the high note in the first line of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder quite so beautifully. Keenlyside is not an obvious Mahler baritone in the Fischer-Dieskau mould: the honey in his voice can be switched off as well as on. But it is at the rough edges that it becomes most interesting, and the few extra breaths he needed seemed part and parcel of a performance that was as committed as it was moving. He and the brass spared nothing in the last verse of Um Mitternacht: one man against the trumpets of Jericho.

Nézet-Séguin’s real test should have been Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. He certainly put his stamp on it, and the orchestra found a different sound, with sparing vibrato for the strings. Some of his phrasing ideas were counterintuitive; some were successful, some slightly impeded the flow. The music rarely lacked excitement, but it was more of the minute than part of the long game. Still, Nézet-Séguin can make those minutes magical, as the encore, The Fairy Garden from Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, amply proved.

Keith McDonnell, MusicOMH.com, 23 August 2010

5stars

One of the most eagerly anticipated proms of the season was the appearance of the dynamic young Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he is music director. Given his electric performances with the LPO over the last few seasons, Nézet-Séguin has rightly become a favourite with London audiences so it came as no surprise that the Royal Albert Hall was packed to the rafters for this, his second conducting engagement at the Proms, the first being an unforgettable evening of Stravinsky and Mendelssohn with the SCO last year.

The evening began with a magisterial reading of Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture – the sonorous theme which opens the work was played with wonderful warmth and gravitas by the trombone section, whilst there was an iridescence to the strings which gave the whole interpretation a wonderful sense of clarity.

Simon Keenlyside was the expressive soloist in an introspective performance of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder. He brought a wide range of tonal colour to the songs, took a few risks with some judiciously placed mezza-voce phrases at the top of his range which didn’t always pay off and at times had difficulty being heard above the orchestra. Out of all the songs ‘Um Mitternacht’ was the most successful where Keenlyside’s burnished baritone properly came into focus and he brought due resignation to the closing lines of the final song ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world)’ – “Ich leb’allein in meinem himmel, In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied – I live alone in my heaven, In my loving, in my song”.

After the interval we were treated to a headlong, vivacious performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, ‘Eroica’. Anyone present at Nézet-Séguin’s superlative performance of the Seventh with the LPO in April can confirm that Nézet-Séguin has a special affinity with Beethoven, so expectations ran high for this performance of the ‘Eroica’. All the hallmarks of this conductor’s particular approach to the composer were evident – faultless balance between the sections of the orchestra, minimum vibrato in the strings and a wide dynamic range that allowed the strings to almost whisper the start of the third movement. The overall effect was thrilling and whilst there was due solemnity in the second movement, the fourth was taken at a suitably breakneck pace. All sections of the Rotterdam Philharmonic responded with warm, accurate and impassioned playing. For an encore Nézet-Séguin coaxed some sensuous sounds from the orchestra as they gave a glowing account of the ‘Fairy Garden’ from Ravel’s Mother Goose suite. An unforgettable evening.

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