Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/N�zet-S�guin @ Royal Festival Hall, London

4 April 2009

Reconstructed Mendelssohn and spell-binding Brahms make for a thrilling LPO concert under Yannick Nzet-Sguin.

On the basis of this evening alone Yannick Nzet-Sguin’s appointment as Principal Guest Conductor of the LPO is a cause for major rejoicing.

The first half of this memorable evening was devoted to one work, namely Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in E minor, which if he had lived to complete it would have been his third. At the time of his death he had only managed to sketch the opening bars, the solo piano part for the remainder of the first movement, the entire second movement and a few melodic fragments for the third. It was tonight’s pianist, Roberto Prosseda, who suggested to scholar Marcello Bufalini that he reconstruct the piece from what little fragments the composer had left.

Whether Mendelssohn would have followed the same train of thought as Bufalini is open to endless conjecture but what can be in no doubt was Prosseda’s technical virtuosity throughout this exhilarating performance, which concluded with a breathtaking finale.

After the interval we were treated to the most moving, reverential, illuminating and ultimately uplifting performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem I’ve ever heard, either in the concert hall or on CD. In deciding against setting the Latin Requiem Mass, Brahms delivers a far more personal work, heavily influenced by the death of his great friend Robert Schumann and his mother. There is none of the fire and brimstone, hell and damnation that is found in most other Requiem Masses, Brahms instead finding a compositional voice of quiet emotion and profound humanity that when faced with such an enlightening a performance as this, even the most fervent unbeliever cannot fail to be moved.

From the hushed introspection of the opening, delicately played by cellos, then violas it was evident that this was going to be a remarkable performance a view confirmed when the LPO Choir entered singing ‘Selig sind, die da Lied tragen (Blessed are they that mourn)’ on barely a thread of tone. Throughout the evening they never put a foot wrong, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard such glorious choral singing, whether at full throttle in ‘Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (For all flesh is as grass)’ or in the quiet valedictory hymn ‘Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead)’ which concludes the work. Quite astounding, and they and their superb director Neville Creed were rightly awarded a thunderous ovation at the end.

Both announced soloists cancelled but we were lucky that their replacements, Elizabeth Watts and Stphane Degout, more than compensated. She achieved lyrical nirvana with her impassioned singing of ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (And ye now therefore have sorrow)’ whilst he was forthright and resplendent in ‘Denn wir haben keine bleibende Statt (For here have we no continuing city)’.

But architect of the evening’s unequivocal success was Yannick Nzet-Sguin. To conduct a piece of this magnitude from memory is no mean feat, yet it was evident in every bar that here was a work dear to this young conductor’s heart. Tempi were perfectly judged, attention to orchestral detail was scrupulous and all the sections of the orchestra responded with secure and impassioned playing. The seemingly endless silence at the close, with no one daring to applaud, was indicative of the profound and stirring effect this performance had had on its listeners. All in all a performance that no one present will forget in a hurry and a reminder, if one needed reminding, that this is probably Brahms’ greatest achievement.

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