The MET Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin offered this French program in which he demonstrated his multi-faceted talent in a splendid performance of La mer, a well-conceived reading that elicited much spirit and dramatic impact without engaging in forced nuances or affectations. To open he let the music emerge naturally as it became increasingly animated; then agile woodwinds gadded about, vigorously and gleefully with shimmering glitter in ‘Play of the waves’; and for ‘Dialogue of wind and sea’ he brilliantly gauged the build-up to the rousing conclusion, almost imperceptibly increasing the underlying tension until the climax burst forth with blazing glory.
Henri Dutilleux’s Le Temps l’horloge (Time and the Clock) was written between 2006 and 2009. The orchestration includes a harpsichord and an accordion, used with great subtlety, setting words by Jean Tardieu, Robert Desnos and Baudelaire. Isabel Leonard’s lilting voice captured the essence of these diverse poems impressively, despite occasional faulty enunciation. Her gentle approach was fitting to the introverted character of the vocal line; and her manner of expression gave vitality to passages that break-through the generally restrained temperament. Leonard captured the spirit of timelessness evoked by Tardieu’s poetry engagingly, and she was also impressive in communicating the sorrows of ‘The Last Poem’ which conjures up a “shadow” that haunts one who has lost her beloved. The final song, ‘Get Drunk’, presents a rather nihilistic statement. Baudelaire’s negative assessment of life recalls ‘The Drunkard in Spring’ from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Leonard’s ardent efforts to communicate the devil-may-care attitude of the text were successful for the most part.
Ravel’s enthralling Shéhérazade is based on the poetry of Tristan Klingsor. Leonard gave an evocative yet refined reading, sensitive and unpretentiously expressive during the more introverted passages, and more forthcoming when the dramatic character of the music demands. Nézet-Séguin captured the delicate, dream-like character of the opening number as well as its bold characterizations of the Orient. Eastern modalities color the second song, graced with a melodious flute solo beautifully played by Charles Knox. Leonard’s warm, caressing vocalism artfully generated a wistful ambiance that enhanced the ambivalent nature of the closing setting.
The Second Suite from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé provided the perfect conclusion. The languorous imagery of the opening ‘Daybreak’ was enhanced by Nézet-Séguin’s artfully shaped phrases and Knox again delivered an exquisite solo during ‘Pantomime’. An energetic ‘General Dance’ (bacchanal) became more intense as it proceeded (notice the quote from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade here!) eliciting enormous excitement without excessive speed.