London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nézet-Séguin, Royal Festival Hall, London
Wednesday 19 November 2008
You generally know within seconds of the start of a performance if a conductor has what it takes to take us to that other place where senses are heightened. It was the performance of Ravel's La Valse at the start of Yannick Nézet-Séguin's first concert as principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic that will have convinced a lot of people of great things to come.
The erratic heartbeat at the start drew all ears into a nocturnal netherworld where murmuring bass voices grumbled and sighed. The emergence of the once-glorious waltz had the sickly-sweet smell of death about it; it was as if Nézet-Séguin was holding a distorting mirror up to the music and showing us its imminent collapse. The end was terrible in the best sense – grotesque and shocking.
Ace trombonist Christian Lindberg arrived in his usual hurry, white shirt flapping. In his edition of Leopold Mozart's Alto Trombone Concerto a ripe vibrato, crisp articulation, even a trill displayed all the agility of a piccolo trumpet. But when he returned in full evening dress for something called Cantos de la Mancha by Jan Sandstrom, suspicions were aroused. Within seconds he hurled his trombone to the floor, started screaming at the audience, ripping at his attire. Nervous breakdown or performance art? Both. This "mad scene" for Don Quixote would have been laughable but for the impossibly beautiful lament at its heart. Lindberg ended up in a pair of leopardskin tights, brandishing his instrument's slide like a lance. But Nézet-Séguin had the last word, a resonance of bells and tam-tam rounding off his richly characterised performance of the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition.
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