Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall – Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Jennifer Higdon and Rachmaninoff

Jennifer Higdon
Fanfare Ritmico

Symphonic Dances, Op.45
Symphony No.2 in E-minor, Op.27

Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 17 October, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

An energetic rendition of Jennifer Higdon’s brisk and bombastic Fanfare Ritmico served as opener. Composed in 1999, this short piece is awash with vibrant, intricate writing and propulsive rhythms buoyed by piano and a variety of drums. A delicate trio for flute, oboe and clarinet midway through was especially engaging.

During his many years of exile in America, Sergei Rachmaninoff enjoyed a close association with the Philadelphia Orchestra. More recently, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphians have made his music a significant part of their repertoire. In this concert the rapport between composer and orchestra was strongly evident. Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff’s final composition, was dedicated to the ensemble, who delivered its premiere under Eugene Ormandy. Nézet-Séguin elicited splendid playing from the strings in a wonderfully spontaneous account, full of lyrical intensity, especially in the captivating central waltz. The Finale had plenty of forward impetus, leading up to an electrifying close.

In the Symphony, Nézet-Séguin elicited strikingly committed playing in a passionately intense rendition that combined spontaneity with bold romantic feeling. Ignoring the first movement’s exposition repeat, he took a broad, comprehensive approach which allowed every strand to tell. The second movement was played with great energy, and agility, especially the central fugato section. In the Adagio, after a seductive opening clarinet solo from Ricardo Morales, the strings bloomed voluptuously and the climax displayed a nearly overwhelmingly forceful fervor. Lingering over tempos, the conductor invited persuasive portamento on the violins, the result being strongly spirited rather than overly sentimental. The Finale was splendidly broadened, with a tremendous feeling of apotheosis coming across in the colossal climaxes to complete a performance in which Rachmaninoff the master orchestrator sparkled and soared.

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