Nézet-Séguin’s Superb Poulenc

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POULENC: Piano Concerto in c# min.1 Concerto for Organ, Strings & Timpani.2 Stabat Mater3 / 1Alexandre Tharaud, pno; 2James O’Donnell, org; 3Kate Royal, sop; London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, cond / LPO 0108 (live: London, 1,3October 23, 2013 & 2March 26, 2014

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, one of the hot young conductors of our age, here tackles the entertaining yet meaty music of Francis Poulenc. It’s a good fit for him, since Poulenc’s music calls for energized, straightforward readings, and this is his forte. Pianist Alexandre Tharaud, equally effervescent, gives a fine reading of the piano concerto, which unfortunately sounds a bit too much to my ears like movie music in the first movement. The second and third movements, though quite witty, escape this allusion.

The organ & timpani concerto is an altogether more serious work, and I admit being impressed by Nézet-Séguin’s handling of the score. He draws an impressively dark sound out of the LPO, mirroring the menacing sound of the first movement, and even in the second, marked “Allegro giocoso,” there is an undercurrent of menace in the music. This is as fine a performance as the one by organist Maurice Duruflé and conductor Georges Prêtre, made under the composer’s own direction.

I was also deeply impressed by Nézet-Séguin’s wonderful performance of the Stabat Mater, a work I hadn’t heard before. His pacing and shaping of the score is quite masterful, and the LSO Choir sings with a wonderfully warm sound. The conductor really digs into the dramatic sections (i.e., the “Cujus animam”), with razor-sharp attacks by both orchestra and chorus. Sadly, soprano Kate Royal, considered just a few years ago an up-and-coming star, has developed a flutter in her voice—not quite a wobble, but a little too close for comfort.

In toto, then, a very fine album except for Royal’s contribution to the Stabat Mater. A word of warning to her: stop pushing your voice so hard! Thank you.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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