Yannick Nézet-Séguin left the expected waltz repertory usually on his New Year’s Eve concert last year, opting for a night of Italian arias sung by guest soprano Angela Meade. He saved his waltz time a Goodbye to Vienna three concert mini-festival in January, the first an intriguing mix of Strauss, Beethoven and a waltz carnavale by HK Gruber.
Nézet-Séguin doesn’t just ignite the surface beauty of the waltz, he usually goes for much more. That approach vibrantly illustrated in the concert opener of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Tales from the Vienna Woods, a perfect showpiece to vault the Philadelphia Orchestra’s strings at their most striated and sonorous. The musicians in the conductor’s circle, with chamber orchestra interplays between violists Choong-Jin Chang and Kristen Johnson; cellists Yumi Kendall and Jonathan Koen, and double lead violins by David Kim and Juliet Kang.
Next, Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki essayed a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 4. The tall pianist bolt upright before at the piano before his head drops inches over the keys, his leg tucked under the bench. Lisiecki’s technical clarity is as brilliant as his interpretive artistry and his engagement with the rest of the orchestra is electric. In the 2nd movement andante passages you hear how inside this concerto Lisiecki is in reaching its full musical dimension.
Much has been written about the metaphysical implications of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, and those brave, brilliant compositional musings are present in Ludwig’s fourth concerto as well. There are reports that Beethoven may have been composing a symphonic narrative following the mythic story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which contemplates the ‘underworld’ and life after death. And really, by now, it reads even more transcendental.
During Lisiecki’s solo passages, Nézet-Séguin was quarter turned toward the pianist, in rapt attention like the rest of the audience. The pianist has a reserved, even shy deportment onstage when he is not playing, but after applause and the maestro giving him a huge hug and the audience lusty applause, he charmingly introduced a Schumann etude for his encore. A few bars in the quietness was interrupted by a cell phone , Nezet-Seguin, now sitting on the podium was shaking his head and Lisiecki smiled and said “That was Vienna calling” then began again and you can only hope that you get the chance to hear him play more Schumann next time.
The second half of the concert was just as captivating with Nézet-Séguin putting his interpretive stamp on Beethoven’s Serioso, an equally adventurous work, its full innovation more evident in Beethoven’s String Quartet orchestration, here in a symphonic arrangement by Gustav Mahler that was not without some controversy. The original quartet doesn’t really sound like Ludwig’s orchestral works and symphonically only in momentary progressions.
Chiviari: an Austrian Journey for Orchestra was the closer composed in 1981 by “transgressive” by Viennese born composer HK Gruber. Nézet-Séguin told the audience it was “deconstructing’ Strauss…with a bit of Mahler and big -band jazz thrown in.” The Chiviari is an urbane sonic mosaic- brassy fanfares, cool vibes, snarky musical allusions, and pugilistic upper-lower string counterpoint. The concert had a second surprise encore when Yannick bounded back on the podium and cued the inspiration for the work, Strauss’ Perpetuum mobile, which, with the Philadelphians sounding as vibrant as ever.