Saturday, 17 August 2019
The many faces of Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Was there ever a more perfect array of expressions to match the music than those of the wondrous Canadian? The shaping and body movements are totally eloquent, as they have to be, but the many faces prove that this man lives what he conducts without affectation or excess. BBC Proms hero the photographer Chris Christodoulou caught him in many moods at the first of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra concerts; between us Sebastian Scotney and I managed to put up quite a few shots in our respective reviews (mine is here). Chris wrote to me:' I have just finished editing 264 images of him alone - and only rejected at a push 22!' Thanks to him for supplying a few more here.
Chris also tells me that how people behave backstage is an eye-opener, and that YNS is really out there, shaking hands and hugging people. Clearly a Mensch as well as a seriously great conductor.
It's a real shame the BBC didn't want shots at the second BRSO concert; the partnership with Gil Shaham, a late replacement for Lisa Batiashvili in Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto as YNS was for Mariss Jansons in the two concerts, proved another joy to watch and hear. Despite an ineffable lightness of touch, the team got at the essential seriousness I've always maintained is there in all three movements, the finale an increasingly manic danse macabre like Shostakovich's and Lorca's characterisation of the Malagueña in the Fourteenth Symphony ('death moves in and out of the tavern').
My colleague in the pre-Prom talk for that evening, Ariane Todes, didn't agree with me on the heart of darkness, opening apart, even after the performance, but that's fine - all part of Prokofiev's amazing ambiguity. We got on very well, and Martin Handley is a true knowledgeable pro; I didn't actually miss anything in the edited version brought out in time for the interval, so skilfully did he steer us to the main points both about the Russian school of violin playing and the concerto itself. Take a listen while you can on the iPlayer, both to the concert and to the talk (which starts at 46m25s).
I must admit the tempi YNS took in those infuriatingly music-minus-two and -three sequences in the annoying Rosenkavalier Suite could not have been sustained by any singer, but it was worth it to hear the necessarily exaggerated swoon of the waltzes (and the ratchet rattling in the Albert Hall). Brilliant idea, too, to give Sibelius's near-contemporary, couldn't-be-more-different Valse triste as the encore.
That's become an encore speciality of the Estonian Festival Orchestra and Paavo Järvi, who gave their best performance yet, of the ones I've heard, at the end of this year's Pärnu Festival; but YNS and the Bavarians yielded nothing in terms of character. Two very great orchestras and conductors - I wish Mariss Jansons back to full health after his absence, but I wonder if the (relatively) young Canadian could be next in line of succession in Munich.