London Philharmonic/Nézet-Séguin [Mother Goose … Anna Caterina Antonacci sings La Mort de Cléopâtre … Symphonie fantastique]

Mother Goose – Suite
La Mort de Cléopâtre
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14

Anna Caterina Antonacci (soprano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Bob Briggs

Reviewed: 16 February, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Yannick Nézet-Séguin can really deliver the goods and this concert was no exception. Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite received a wonderful performance – delicate and restrained – with the strings (especially when muted) displaying the most beautiful sound and achieving an almost miraculous pianissimo. The movements were well-characterised and the whole benefitted from fine contributions from the wind section, particularly Jaime Martín’s flute and Ian Hardwick’s oboe.

Berlioz’s “La Mort de Cléopâtre” was written for his second attempt to win the Prix de Rome. That he didn’t is obvious from the flamboyant orchestration and freewheeling style Anna Caterina Antonacci delivered the music with drama and passion, treating it as an operatic scena but thankfully she didn’t attempt to physically act the music. Antonacci sang with almost-perfect diction and her performance was overwhelming in power and tragedy. The coda, where Cleopatra dies, was full of pathos, as our heroine seems to lose her grip on reality and the musical line collapses. She was well supported by the LPO, Nézet-Séguin not afraid to let it play. There were a few moments where the voice was engulfed in Berlioz’s huge sound, but it was all part of Nézet-Séguin’s conception.

Symphonie fantastique might be a piece we all know, perhaps too well, but here it emerged fresh and vital. This was a bold and romantic account that also revealed the classical side of the work. Nézet-Séguin knew exactly what he wanted and he got it! There was real verve, and swing, to the first movement, which benefitted from having the exposition repeated. The ‘Waltz’, incorporating four harps, was unaffected and ‘Scene in the Country’ heart-breaking and full of atmosphere, the ending a breathless stillness interrupted only by the sound of thunder; nature being stronger and more disruptive than human passion. ‘March to the Scaffold’, with the repeat of the first section taken, and ‘Witches’ Sabbath’ were full of the necessary grotesquerie and delivered with great enthusiasm and throwaway abandon. This was a thrilling performance.

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