London Philharmonic/Yannick Nézet-Séguin with James O’Donnell & Sarah Connolly – Poulenc, Berlioz & Saint-Säens – With Organ

Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings and Timpani
Les Nuits d’été, Op.7
Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.78, “avec orgue”

James O’Donnell (organ)

Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 26 March, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Photograph: Marco BorggreveThis concert was given as part of the Southbank’s Centre Pull Out All The Stops festival to celebrate the restoration of the Royal Festival Hall organ. The first requirement in Francis Poulenc’s Concerto is that the solo instrument and the orchestra are tuned exactly together. All was well on this occasion, and James O’Donnell, Organist of Westminster Abbey, created some glorious sounds. Yannick Néztt-Séguin took great care to ensure that ensemble between organ and orchestra was exact, and a finely judged, expressive performance ensued. The tenderness of the Andante moderato section was as moving as the faster and louder passages were exhilarating. But sometimes the organ completely overwhelmed the strings.

Sarah Connolly (replacing Anna Caterina Antonacci) was very much attuned to the varying romantic sentiments of the six poems by Théophile Gautier that Berlioz set for his song-cycle. She sang beautifully, too, but her diction was not quite clear enough, and her French pronunciation was not always entirely idiomatic. Nézet-Séguin obtained eloquent, very refined playing.

After the interval we heard a totally satisfying performance of Saint-Saëns’s glorious “with organ” (the composer’s description) Third Symphony, for large orchestra, including piano/four hands. The playing was magnificent and everything was perfectly in place – exuberant rhythms and thrilling climaxes in the outer movements, a most affectingly shaped slow movement, and urgent attack in the scherzo. The organ does not take a solo role; rather it embellishes the orchestral argument, and then only in two of the four movements. This was something very special as part of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s final season as the LPO’s Principal Guest Conductor. He will be sorely missed when he departs this role.

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