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DiDonato’s triumphant Poème de l’amour

Verizon Hall
11/08/2018 -  & November 9*, 10, 2018
Richard Wagner: Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin
Mason Bates: Anthology of Fantastic Zoology
Ernest Chausson: Poème de l’amour et de la mer, opus 19
Ottorino Respighi: The Fountains of Rome

Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

J. DiDonato, Nézet-Séguin (© Jessica Griffith)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin wants the artistic relationships he has as musical director at the Metropolitan Opera will extend to collaborations with Met stars performing in concert appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, his other gig. Nézet-Séguin and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato proved a powerhouse team for their revival of the rarely performed Poème de l’amour et de la mer by French composer Ernest Chausson. DiDonato has many avid fans in Philadelphia as an alum of the Academy of Vocal Arts. It was not the only highlight of Nézet-Séguin’s adventurous programming, Yannick presenting the Philadelphia Orchestra’s first performance of Mason Bates’ witty and wily Anthology of Fantastic Zoology.

But first, it was the maestro’s sumptuous reading of the sonic majesty that is Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin. Nézet-Séguin’s precision in building Wagner’s depth of sound as it slowly develops the orchestra’s lustrous stings.

And speaking of sonic dimensions, Mason Bates Anthology of Fantastic Zoology boasts a forest of exotic percussive and acoustical instruments, with a bow or two to Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, perhaps and more cinematic effects with cinematic allure ala Bernard Herrmann, but Zoology is its own symphonic beast, tons of fun and full of compelling musical ideas.

The opening of Anthology has violins lines that volley through the string section in razor sharp clarity meanwhile, the horn section and woodwinds are on tap for various wild and feral sounds. Bates keeps unleashing more pyrotechnics and mises en scène of rapturous chaos and dissonant sinfonia – a favorite was a metallic snaky sound sheer that seemed to swallows itself. Meanwhile, Don Liuzzi is flanked by kettle drums/snare panel and playing them like a veteran jazz vanguard. And a forest of percussion instruments commandeered by Christopher Deviney and Angela Zator Nelson. Bates, a Philadelphia native now living on the West Coast, was in Verizon Hall and bounded onstage to drink in the lusty applause from his hometown crowd.

Joyce DiDonato interpretive artistry of Ernest Chausson’s Poème is no less than spellbinding. Nézet-Séguin has championed this under-recognized work for its unique orchestral and vocal dynamic. Chausson adapting Maurice Bouchor poetry to conjure the death of passion and love, with its sea imagery, Nézet-Séguin articulating its unique Wagnerian dimension within the subtleties of Chausson’s lush French classicism. The themes of the death of passionate love, all the more expressive in French, DiDonato resists any over-dramatizing, illuminating Chausson’s power with shimmering control. The full orchestra moments in the first section seemed a bit overpowering DiDonato’s voice, but only momentarily. The mezzo’s technical artistry throughout is truly exquisite. This is a great performance and you can only hope that DiDonato and Nézet-Séguin record it with the Philadelphians.

Nézet-Séguin concluded the concert with Respighi’s The Fountains of Rome which he ignites with sharp tempos and lush symphonic clarity. The audience was on its feet again and it is one of Yannick’s signatures that he makes the closer count in unexpected ways. Among the standout soloists throughout the program concertmaster violins David Kim, Juliette Kang, violist CJ Chang and cellist Hai-Ye Ni and especially principal guest oboist Philippe Tondre.

Lewis Whittington



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