Staatskapelle Berlin/Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall (2) – Brahms 3 & 4

Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Symphony No.4 in E-minor, Op.98

Staatskapelle Berlin

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 1 December, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

The second of two Staatskapelle Berlin concerts with Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the Carnegie Hall podium in place of the ill Daniel Barenboim.

The evening led off with the passionate Symphony No.3, the composer’s shortest and most tightly constructed work in the genre. From beginning to end the performance confirmed the orchestra’s reputation for clarity and precision. Nézet-Séguin skillfully judged the tempos of the opening, masterfully handlingthe three great opening chords that introduce the majestic first theme and allowing every part of the Allegro first movement (exposition repeat observed) to shine, the iridescent woodwinds especially crisp as they alternated with the shimmering strings. A bright clarinet solo enlivened the pastoral Andante, the music beautifully played and warmly lyrical. In the ensuing Poco Allegretto, the gorgeous solo horn passage gracefully shaped. The terse and dramatic Finale had a wonderful, exhilarating thrust and the gently glowing valedictory ending, with the melody floating downward in violins, was exquisitely managed.

Following intermission came an incandescent account of the tragic Symphony No.4, infused with energy and distinguished by strong, dramatic contrasts and an abundance of splendid solo and sectional playing, notably in the clarinet-bassoon duet in the opening Allegro non troppo. Nézet-Séguin demonstrated tremendous fervor throughout, consistently maintaining tension and a steady lyrical flow. He segued directly from the first to the second movement and did the same between movements three and four. This gave a sense of unity and urgency to the work, propelling it through a heartbreaking flute solo, a stately trombone chorale and other high points for an impressive and satisfying passacaglia Finale. It was a pleasure to watch the conductor embracing the details of this magnificent Symphony and receiving such a warm response from the Staatskapelle members who obviously enjoyed playing for him as much as he did leading them.

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