Saturday, February 26, 2020

Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Guest Reviewer, Susan Stempleski

Back in Carnegie Hall after an absence of three years, the Vienna Philharmonic, in this, the second of three concerts over this weekend, delivered stunning renditions of three of the most colorful works in the repertoire. The excitement in the air when the orchestra entered gave way to an ecstatic ovation when Yannick Nézet-Séguin, replacing Valery Gergiev (, walked on. Once on the podium he stood with his back to the audience for what seemed like two to three minutes, glancing backward over each shoulder several times until he was certain that the noisy New York audience had completely settled.

From the moment he lifted his baton and the VPO’s first flautist, Walter Auer, began to sound the sinuous introduction to Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, the full house was completely captivated. The softly seductive melody, soon cushioned by exquisitely ethereal harp arpeggios and warm horns undulating in the background, seemed to come from some mysterious and far-away realm, and made for a ravishing opening to an unhurried and beautifully shaped, highly atmospheric account of Debussy’s shimmering composition.

The program continued with a richly sensuous, delicately detailed rendition of the Daphnis et Chloé Suite No.2 in which Nézet-Séguin elicited all the rapture and magic in Ravel’s masterpiece and the VPO musicians displayed all the virtuosity and sensitivity demanded. There was some superb playing in the opening ‘Lever du jour’ – especially from the harps, flutes and strings. In the dazzlingly rendered ‘Danse générale’ the conductor’s springy step and energetic style was perfectly suited to the music.

A vivid and characterful account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade occupied the concert’s second half, a performance that captured the exotic qualities of the music as it summoned up the images in the nightly stories that Scheherazade told the Sultan – especially the sea’s undulating waves in the first movement and the ship crashing against a rock in the fourth – as well as of the beguiling storyteller herself and her domineering husband. And listeners seeking to revel in full and finely polished sound could only marvel at the marvelously rendered details: the soaring strings in the opening movement, the brightly rendered wind contributions in the second, the tingling percussion in the third, and the violin solos throughout, played with silvery tone, deep feeling, and exquisite technique by concertmaster Volkhard Steude. There were no encores.