A gifted pianist and dynamo conductor of many of the worlds’ most prestigious orchestras, Yannick Nézet-Séguin treated the local Montreal audience to a show of his remarkable talent (he was born here) by leading several of his favourite fellow musicians in an all-Brahms program held at Bourgie Hall on June 7th, 2012. The Orchestre Métropolitain has been his ‘podium’ since 2000, but as a masterful pianist, he dazzles as well. This was clear in the opening piece – the Brahms Sonatensatz WoO2 (1853) and in the following Scherzo from the F.A.E. Sonata.
A prodigious performance came together in the final piece (Quintet for piano and strings in F Minor Op. 32 (1864). The ensemble playing was wonderful in this last piece that made most of us forget about the vocal singing of Geneviève Lévesque who previously offered two songs by Brahms. Her voice is thick – but continually so, and as a mezzo-soprano, her singing last night lacked nuance, along with variable shades - needed to handle the quick rises and sudden diminuendos that characterize all Brahms lieder and instrumental compositions. Quite frankly her performance lacked emotive punch and colour. The songs titled ‘Stilled Longings’ and ‘Sacred Lullaby’, merit exquisite phrasing within an emotional context, yet I found nothing moving about her voice. I felt some melancholy, but not enough. She needs to let go more.
Strident, complex and expansive, Brahms demands depth that few can muster, but the instrumental musicians delivered a really great performance in the last piece, Quintet for piano and strings in F Minor Op. 34. I just wish everyone had been more in tune with Brahms from the get-go. Violinist Yukari Cousineau’s playing for me lacked accentuation and punctuation. It was lacklustre certainly in the Sonatensatz, but as first violinist in the Brahms Quintet in F Minor, she certainly redeemed herself.
Passion was most noticeable in Yannick, and so the night really belonged to him and Brahms. He is presently the Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This September he will become Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.