Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall – Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Petrushka, Weill, and Rhapsody in Blue

Petrushka [1947 version] 

Symphony No.2

Rhapsody in Blue*

*Marcus Roberts Trio [Marcus Roberts (piano), Martin Jaffe (bass) & Jason Marsalis (drums)

Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 23 January, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

This program of three-early-20th-century works, part of Carnegie Hall’s ongoing festival, “Fall of the Weimar Republic: Dancing on the Precipice”, opened with an enchanting renditionof Petrushka. Emphasizing rhythmic details with precision and carefully shaping each phrase, Yannick Nézet-Séguin drew a vivid account that successfully conveyed the currents of despair and flashes of light in the ballet’s twisted tale of a puppet love triangle.

After intermission came Kurt Weill’s more modestly orchestrated Second Symphony, a concise three-movement work composed in 1933-34 on commission from Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, the American-born heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune and an arts patron. An eclectic piece with nods towards neoclassicism, popular music, and Romanticism, it has some entertaining passages – especially in the strident final movement. Nézet-Séguin led a promptly paced, full-throated reading in which the playing in the Mahlerian funeral march of the central Largo was most impressive.

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has been a repertory staple since its 1924 premiere in New York by the Palais Royal Orchestra led by Paul Whiteman at the now long-gone Aeolian Hall. On this occasion, the orchestral musicians were joined by a jazz trio in place of the customary piano soloist. Marcus Roberts, who has devoted much of his decades-long career to exploring this piece, fired off freewheeling thematic improvisations in the solo passages marked for his instrument. His playing – anchored very intermittently by Martin Jaffe’s bass and Jason Marsalis’s drums – transformed the cadenzas into extended jazz riffs, eliciting enthusiastic applause. While the pianist’s interpretation was undeniably impressive and charming, the contributions of the other members of the trio were less so. Jaffe’s bass was barely audible, and Marsalis’s drums not much more noticeable. The orchestra however, though confined to the notes on the page, played with a perceptible sense of freedom, with principal clarinet Ricardo Morales luxuriating more than usual in the rapturous opening glissando. But with neither Nézet-Séguin nor the Philadelphians being very fluent in jazz, the most satisfying moments came when the orchestra and Roberts played together and the pianist generally adhered to Gershwin’s sufficiently lively and spontaneous score, as orchestrated by Ferde Grofé.

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