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Yannick Nézet-Séguin Underwhelms

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
03/18/2012 -  
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major, Adagio
Alexander von Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony, Op. 18

Angela Meade (Soprano), Brett Polegato (Baritone)
Orchestre Métropolitain, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Conductor)

Y. Nézet-Séguin (© Geoffrey Norris)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin offered an ambitious program Sunday afternoon with his hometown orchestra, the Orchestre Métropolitain, of two profound and elegiac works. Unfortunately, he was not quite ready for them.

The almost 30-minute single movement that Mahler completed of his Symphony No. 10, the opening “Adagio”, was played with clarity and transparency (but maybe more than we would have liked, considering, for example, out-of-tune violas, a strident entry from the flutes and some blats from the brass). There was attention to detail, but the performance lacked depth, passion and mystery. Nézet-Séguin seemed to be treating the work as if it were a crystal bowl he was afraid of dropping—too reverential, too adverse to taking risks. There was some fine solo work, especially from principal horn Louis-Philippe Marsolais. He seemed to have a feel for the music that most of the other musicians lacked. The remaining horns also performed admirably—much better from what I’ve heard from the horns in recent concerts by the city’s principal orchestra—the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. The basses could have used a little more muscle.

The second part of the program offered the Montreal premiere of Alexander von Zemlinsky’s best-known composition, the Lyric Symphony (1922-23). This post-romantic work (emulating Mahler’s Song of the Earth) comprises seven movements set to poems by Rabîndranâth Tagore for soprano and baritone. For this, Nézet-Séguin was more engaged with the orchestra, but again, despite better playing than in the Mahler, the performance lacked color and failed to live up to its dramatic potential and poetic possibilities.

Even more disappointing were the two soloists, baritone Brett Polegato and soprano Angela Meade, who won the People’s Choice Award at the 2009 Montreal International Musical Competition and gave an admirable performance in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent televised production of Ernani. Both failed to cut through the orchestra during the fortissimo sections and both their lower registers were virtually inaudible from where I was sitting in the middle of the third balcony. This problem could have been due to the constant acoustic challenges that have been rife since the hall opened last September. Listeners with whom I spoke afterwards who were sitting in other parts of the hall had different experiences. In a proper acoustical environment the soloists may have sounded wonderful.

Earl Arthur Love



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