BBC Proms reviews

Prom 20: SCO/Nézet-Séguin @ Royal Albert Hall, London

31 July 2009

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

Given his rapturously received concerts with the LPO, it came as no surprise the Royal Albert Hall was packed to the rafters for Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s conducting debut at the Proms with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

With a varied programme that encompassed two of this year’s themes, alongside Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, this young Canadian conductor yet again proved that he is not only the most exciting conductor of his generation but has the Midas touch when it comes to interpreting a wide-encompassing repertoire. All of Stravinsky’s ballets have been programmed at this year’s Proms, and this concert opened with Pulcinella.

Commissioned by Diaghilev, and first performed by the Ballets Russes at the Paris Opéra in 1920 the score was composed at the beginning of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period, but far from being plagiaristic it contains Stravinsky’s typical wealth of invention, both melodic and orchestral. Scored for a modest ensemble and three soloists it tells the tale of the commedia dell’arte character of Pulcinella, and it positively fizzes with energy and originality. Nézet-Séguin’s scrupulous ear for detail meant that the work came across freshly-minted and he was rewarded with wonderfully buoyant playing by the SCO. Karen Cargill, Andrew Staples and Brindley Sherratt were a well-matched and harmonious trio of soloists.

After the interval there was a second debut, namely American pianist Nicholas Angelich who was the soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. His affinity with the piece was evident from the very start, and his playing was dazzling in its virtuosity. He received impeccable support from the conductor and the playing of the orchestra was again faultless.

It fell to the SCO to perform Mendelssohn’s Symphony no 5 in D minor as part of the Proms’ cycle of the composer’s entire symphonic output. This symphony, also titled the Reformation, is notable for the composer’s inclusion of the famous Lutheran chorale Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (A mighty fortress is our God) in the last movement, and despite it not being a success during Mendelssohn’s lifetime it remains one of the composer’s most inspiring works. Nézet-Séguin’s interpretation brought out all the necessary solemnity of the first movement, whilst his balletic movements on the podium encouraged the orchestra to lend the dance-like second movement a lightness of touch that I’d not experienced in this work before. The third movement was played on a thread of tone which led into an exuberant and ecstatic fourth movement. The SCO played like Trojans for Nézet-Séguin let’s hope he becomes a regular fixture at the Proms from now on.

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