The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin demonstrated mastery of Carnegie Hall. They opened with an exhilarating rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Jeremiah’ Symphony that was rich in contrast between bombast and lyricism. The orchestra threatened, as Bernstein intended, to overwhelm, but it never went too far. In the middle movement (‘Profanation’), Nézet-Séguin was joyfully kinetic, embracing the idiosyncratic changes in meter. Sasha Cooke delivered a nuanced and account in the final movement (‘Lamentation’), her Hebrew crystal-clear.
Mozart’s C-minor Piano Concerto with Radu Lupu was less compelling. The Philadelphia strings were pared down, but otherwise lacked historically-informed inflections, making the overall approach rather Beethovenian, rife with dynamic swells and vibrato. Lupu was neither overtly virtuosic nor convincingly introspective, his restraint rather stern in the Allegro, but better in the Finale. When Lupu tried to push the tempo, the orchestra did not reciprocate, and although Nézet-Séguin strove for drama, the Concerto was generally bogged down and, thanks to its key, felt rather funereal.
Robert Schumann’s Symphonies can be problematic, the Second prone to coming off as immature or unwieldy. Not so here, in which the Philadelphians met Nézet-Séguin’s high bar, both in terms of tempos and stamina. This was a sincere account, embracing the music’s fiery virtuosity, yet always two steps back from frantic. Nézet-Séguin emphasized the architecture, shaping the biggest phrases without disregarding small details. The brass was exemplary; having earlier met the color challenges of Bernstein, and melded for a unified palette.