Something Shakespearian is being included in London Philharmonic concerts to commemorate the 400th-anniversary of the bard’s death. Dvořák’s Othello (one of a triptych, Carnival and In Nature’s Realm being the others) was the token offering on this occasion. In Othello, several melodies follow one another and Dvořák is not concerned with tautness of structure. The disadvantage is that the ideas are moderately paced and there are only a few climactic moments but Yannick Nézet-Séguin paid great attention to detail and clarified the delicate changes of orchestration. The interweaving of the woodwinds in their many expressive moments was very impressive.
Attention to detail was also evident in Brahms’s Double Concerto. Here was an account verging on the romantic in conception in which the soloists combined great expressivity with refinement of tone. The strength of Brahms’s melodic creation in the first movement was brought out with elegant persuasiveness. The LPO, now having shed some of the string sections, was again admirable in portraying the inner parts and Nézet-Séguin ensured that each tastefully-turned phrase of the soloists was exactly reflected in the accompaniment. The highlight was the central Andante in which Lisa Batiashvili and Maximilian Hornung were perfect partners, their phrases melted into one another, enhanced by the evenness with which the solo lines flowed in and out of the orchestral sequences. The Finale was lively but still very meaningful.
Dvořák’s Sixth symphony is classically constructed and there is a delightful feature in the first movement which parallels an effect given by Mendelssohn in his ‘Italian’ Symphony, a long section of first-time bars before the exposition repeat. Dvořák does so too and contrives a graceful modulation back to the beginning. Sadly, Nézet-Séguin’s repeat-less interpretation meant that these bars went unheard.
In general, a sense of symphonic structure was not a strong point in this reading. Considerable flexibility of tempo and phrasing can be effective however and this was so in the lovely Adagio which was given with affection. Elsewhere changes of tempo were more disturbing, particularly in the first movement’s development: sempre molto tranquillo is marked above flute and violins but this is an instruction as to how to play the music, not a tempo change; no tempo primo marking follows.
A similar problem arose in the Scherzo: occasionally 19th-century composers will mark the Trio to be slower and Dvořák does so here, but not by much. Poco meno mosso is his direction and he gives a modest reduction of the metronome from 96 to 80. Nézet-Séguin almost turned the Trio into a sleepy Nocturne. Romanticism was applied also to the Finale, to greater effect. Emphasis and tempo modification were used mainly to underline the start of new themes and did so convincingly. The conductor’s amazing turn of speed for the closing pages typified his subjective approach, but it was tremendously exciting and the LPO showed its brilliance – accuracy at a barely playable speed – a positive example of Nézet-Séguin’s very personal view of the music and his skill in presenting it.