Tannhäuser – Overture
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Melanie Eskenazi
Reviewed: 21 August, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
The Philadelphia Orchestra clearly made a canny choice in appointing Yannick Nézet-Séguin as its Music Director from 2012, and it is hoped that he will continue as the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s MD, a role in which Prom 48 saw him endear himself to a near-capacity audience despite uneven performances.
It’s not often that the overture is the most memorable part of a concert, but so it was here. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so rapt by the solemnity of the ‘Der Gnade Heil’ section, or quite so gripped by the music of ‘Dank deiner Huld’ – Nézet-Séguin clearly likes strong contrasts, and his players gave him what he wanted, at times almost too much so. The trombones and trumpets were only just the right side of dangerous, although that’s no bad thing in this music.
In the Mahler, it was sad that Simon Keenlyside’s voice is not in a good state at the moment. He seemed overwhelmed by the whole thing in the first two songs, and was only able to show his customary sensitivity in ‘Um Mitternacht’ although he could not manage the legato at the close. Many final consonants seemed to have fallen by the wayside in ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ and although the orchestra gave him eloquent support, Keenlyside often struggled to rise above it. On this showing, no one could possibly put him at the same level as the great present-day German interpreters of this music, but then he is a variable artist who can be sublime at his best.
After the passionate pounding of the Wagner, it was surprising that Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony elicited a relatively restrained response from Nézet-Séguin and included an elegant funeral march (!) and a somewhat woolly scherzo, although the finale brought the players back to where they’d been earlier in the evening – an exciting, youthful, driven, impassioned place from whence their conductor whipped up a frenzy. The unexpected encore was the closing section (‘Fairy Garden’) from Ravel’s Mother Goose, offering a more intimate and introspective style from this charismatic conductor and his remarkable orchestra.