Boston Symphony/Nézet-Séguin Jean-Yves Thibaudet – Ravel, Liszt & Dvořák

Valses nobles et sentimentales
Piano Concerto No.2 in A
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 26 February, 2009
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Yannick Nézet-Séguin & Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Photograph: Michael J. LutchMontreal-born conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin teamed up with French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet to make an impressive Boston Symphony debut. A relative newcomer to American audiences, Nézet-Séguin guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra last December in performances of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto (with André Watts) and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ Symphony and is scheduled to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic (with Martha Argerich) in a program of Ravel and Shostakovich this March.

Although Americans are just getting to know Nézet-Séguin, he has been Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain since March 2000 and has been making his mark in concert halls on the other side of the Atlantic since his 2004 European debut with Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. At 34 years old, he has been appointed to succeed Valery Gergiev as Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic this season, and since last September has been principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic.

The concert opened with a captivating account of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, music firmly established within the BSO repertoire. Nézet-Séguin elicited all the sumptuous textures and rich colors in the alluring score, the woodwinds sounding especially on their game, along with the orchestra’s eloquent strings, bright-sounding brass and gleaming celesta. The orchestra, so long accustomed to the expressive mannerisms of Seiji Ozawa and the swooping gestures of James Levine, responded with assurance to Nézet-Séguin’s vividly demonstrative conducting style.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin & Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Photograph: Michael J. LutchThe first half of the program concluded with a superb performance of Liszt’s compact Second Piano Concerto. Thibaudet’s sparkling articulation was matched by great tenderness and poetic feeling in the dreamy, more amorous sections, but there was plenty of bravura and panache in the more energetic passages. Thibaudet’s playing was splendid throughout, as was his rapport with Nézet-Séguin and the BSO players, who provided him with excellent support. Martha Babcock’s cello sounded especially gorgeous in her solo.

A vigorous and dynamic account of Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony took up the second half of the program. Conducting from memory, just as he had done with the Ravel and the Liszt, Nézet-Séguin elicited all the vibrant colors and atmosphere of the piece, so full of Brahmsian echoes and Czech pastoral overtones. His reading made the most of the work’s dynamic contrasts. The BSO strings and woodwinds shone in the lyrical moments of the opening Allegro. The Adagio was full of expressive feeling, and there was a wonderful vibrant energy to the dance-rhythms of the scherzo. The finale was delivered with plenty of power and excitement.

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