London Philharmonic/Nézet-Séguin Truls Mørk – Haydn & Bruckner

Cello Concerto in C
Symphony No.7 in E [Nowak Edition]

Truls Mørk (cello)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 February, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

An ‘overture’ (an endangered species these days) would have been welcome (there is something very unsatisfying about beginning a programme with a concerto), the obvious choice (given the slow movement of this Bruckner symphony eventually became a homage to him) being something by Wagner.

Truls Mørk. Photograph: Stephane de Bourgies/Virgin ClassicsNevertheless it was straight into Haydn’s lost (sometime after 1765 when Haydn himself catalogued it) and found (in 1961) C major Cello Concerto; always a pleasure. The orchestral contribution was felicitous and variegated, ideally complementary to Truls Mørk’s playing, the epitome of relaxed expressive point and finesse, often paring his tone down yet still managing to fill the hall. The slow movement was rapt, its changes of emotions gently underlined, and the finale was no excuse for razzle-dazzle speed; always the attention was on the music, its needs, and bringing out those ‘surprises’ that makes Haydn the great composer he is.

There is no doubt that Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the London Philharmonic have a close and positive rapport. The Haydn was no run-through, and the Bruckner had clearly benefited from detailed rehearsal; no only did Nézet-Séguin conduct from memory but, more importantly, he knows this work ‘from the inside’. The attention was captured from the outset with the softest of tremolos and the cellos positively caressing the expansive opening theme, taken very broadly by Nézet-Séguin.

Yannick Nézet-SéguinIndeed, this was a large-scale, dynamic and time-taken performance (70 minutes); therefore some of the conductor’s accelerations in the outer movements sounded awry (partly a consequence of using Leopold Nowak’s edition – Robert Haas’s earlier one is less interventionist in this respect), yet ultimately the conductor is responsible for a through-line (and the outer movements here were less ‘stable’ than ideal, the finale decidedly sectional, the ultimate coda arriving here, in context, like a motor-boat rather than with the majesty of an ocean-liner).

Conversely, the slow movement was sublime, very broad (totalling 26 minutes) and impressively taken in one breath until the cymbal-capped climax (another ‘problem’ with Nowak’s version – even if here this ‘intrusion’ came off well given the vibrant and glowing account of the symphony as a whole. (Good to see though a programme-annotator, here Eric Mason, mention the disputed percussion – “Whether or not the composer approved the addition of a cymbal clash and triangle at this point has been much debated.” It seems that the Schalk brothers suggested their inclusion, something that Arthur Nikisch, the symphony’s first conductor, accepted. Haas rejected the supplement.)

The LPO sported ten double basses (the Royal Festival Hall acoustic needs such underpinning) but the use of four each of trumpets and trombones was less wise. As far as I know, Nowak’s edition calls (as does Haas’s) for three of each. With brass instruments today much more powerful than anything Bruckner could have known (his fff is more our ff) then some restraint is needed, which wasn’t always shown here – the trumpets in particular edgy-sounding and lacking ‘golden tone’. The Wagner tubas though were as smooth as silk, baleful, too, when combining with horns, at the close of the Adagio (an outpouring of grief on receiving news of Wagner’s death).

While one quibble the edition chosen, some tempo manipulation and a disregard for the brass’s domination, it says something for Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s prowess – and the LPO’s regard for him (he is now Principal Guest Conductor) – that there was much that compelled here; music-making of persuasive commitment and conviction.

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