Yannick celebrates awardYannick celebrates backstage with a Citation from Mayor Michael Nutter & the announcement that he is Musical America’s Artist of the Year (photo courtesy of Philadelphia Orchestra FB)

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor
Hilary Hahn, violin
The Firebird

In late Noveember, Conductor Gianandrea Noseda kept the Philadelphia Orchestra warm with two weeks of programming of Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and most intriguingly, the US premiere of Alfred Casella’s Symphony No. 4, 106 years after he wrote it.  Phil Orch musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin returned early December to put his imprimatur on some rare French repertoire and Igor Stravinsky’s complete ballet score to The Firebird.

Nezet-Seguin’s opened the concert with Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite in an altogether anemic reduction by Fritz Hoffman composed in the 1990s. Nezet-Seguin leans on the Toreador fanfares to ignite it, but otherwise the orchestra sounding rote with this dimensionless paste-up.

Perhaps all attention was focused on French composer Henri Vieuxtemps rarely performed Violin Concerto No. 4, a fascinating and challenging rarity composed in 1849-50, with classical-romantic atmospherics and but violin solos that anticipate modernist, experimental lines. You can see its appeal for soloist Hilary Hahn.

The first movement has a lengthy and static orchestral opening before the violin makes its vertiginous, her tone sonorous and reserved. Hahn brings her full artistry, eventually, to the lengthy piece.

Hahn is not just in her own soloist zone; she sways to the orchestrals and turns toward the other players, the interlocks with the orchestra building the theatricality of the piece. At times Hahn is passionately technical, and even with gorgeous, resonate tone and bow and bridge dexterity in the 3rd raucous solo movement, and Hahn’s essaying its Vieuxtemps’ fiery temperament in the long, staccato lines, yet still sounding like a gypsy fiddler of in this symphonic template.

Nezet-Seguin kept the edge to Stravinsky’s La Sacre du Printemps at its most lush earthy atmosphere that careened into its most savage dimension. The recording with the Philadelphians 2013 for Deutsche Grammophon deservedly became a bestselling classical album and won a Grammy.

The atmospherics he brings to La Sacre, he has also applied to The Firebird, but the result is different. The complete ballet score is actually a rarity in the concert hall, with most orchestras opting for the Firebird Suite and for good reason.

The complete ballet score has less of a forward thrust in its collaborative element for the ballet stage, is stellar Stravinsky, without doubt, but the flight of the firebird is the main attraction, and Stravinsky is also providing support to the action onstage, akin to what a film composer does, so Firebird has essentially musical divertissement for the choreography.

In the concert hall all this reads as a lot of symphonic foreplay, interrupted with fanfares, the dynamic contrasts get tired mid-way though and in this performance sounding under glass. Still, there was outstanding playing among the soloists, even within its lackluster cohesive musical arc.

The woodwinds, especially, a rescuing band- among the stellar line-up igniting the Firebird- Jeffrey Khaner flute, Daniel Matsukawa, bassoon, Ricardo Morales, clarinet. At the cool end, that trio of Harps, led by Elizabeth Hainen, proved nothing less than lustrous. David Bilger leading the brass into the crescendo, matched with penetrating clarity by premier French hornist Jennifer Montone.

Nezet-Seguin was having a great week otherwise. He was named Music America’s Artist of the Year, and the announcement was made in Philly, along with a special Citation from Philly Mayor Nutter for the occasion, then the official presentation of the award in Carnegie Hall the following day. Days later, maestro Yan also picked up 2015 Grammy nominations for his Deutsch Grammophon recording of the the Fab Phil’s Rachmaninoff Variations conducting 24 year old Russian superstar pianist Daniil Trifanov.