4 August 2018
I appreciate the first reviewer here for alerting all of us to this release, which contains an interesting variety of works. Nezet-Seguin here shows how well he can do, in live performance and in a wide variety of styles, and one can certainly imagine, based on this, that he'll continue developing into a very fine conductor. I'm not certain so far that any of these will become my favorites--especially since the first set I received was missing disc 4, with the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra and Dvorak 8th--but these are generally very good performances that would be great live and have value on disc as well. A few brief comments:
Shostakovich 4th: I think this is for completists. It's a fine live performance, but to my ear doesn't quite stand with the greatest ones on disc. Gergiev's early Kirov recording captures the symphony's rich, kaleidoscopic range of color and moods better than anyone, even if it doesn't have the most tension or drama; the Philadelphians on DGG, well recorded, play wonderfully for Myung-whun Chung and provide the drama and forward momentum missing from Gergiev. Those are my favorites so far. NS builds up a fine head of steam at crucial moments but doesn't always sustain tension or momentum as well as the above two. On the same day I received this set, the Andris Nelsons/Boston Shostakovich 4th also arrived. That one is also live, and is slightly better recorded. Every new reading reveals new things about this symphony, and Nelsons is a wonderfully executed and probing reading. I think it's slightly better than Nezet-Seguin's, except that Nelsons' rather drastic slowing of the tempo in the final measures does not, as one might expect, enhance the sense of mystery, but instead dissipates it; I think it's kind of heavy-handed. Something I did not expect from Nelsons, who is usually pretty straightforward.
Haydn 44th (Trauer): A fantastic symphony; I'll listen to any version I can find. But the big-name conductors--whether in Haydn, or the HIP movement, or just big-name in general--haven't always been the best in this one. Bruggen, Goodman, and others have left me disappointed. Surprisingly, perhaps, the most powerfully dramatic and beautiful I've heard is Marriner's, once available on LP and later in a boxed set of the "name" symphonies, but hard to find now. Nezet-Seguin is better than maybe 75 percent of conductors in this one, but lacks the natural rhythmic flow, zest, and drama of Marriner. Philipp Entremont and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra also did well with this one.
The Beethoven 8th strikes me as a fine one, but again doesn't displace any of my previous favorites. Tempos are on the brisk side; Nezet-Seguin takes the first movement in 9:00, versus a more typical 9:30, or about 10:00 for more relaxed readings such as Konwitschny's. My preference has, with age perhaps, shifted toward the latter, but that is unrelated to the quality of NS's performance, which is fine. And in the third movement his forward-moving tempo adds a nice lilt I appreciate very much. The Franceska da Rimini on the same disc I found very enjoyable but I can't offer any comparisons except based on very faulty memory since I listen to it only rarely.
Disc 4, with Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and Dvorak's 8th, may be one of the best of this set. NS understands the Bartok work, paces it well, and gets committed and highly characterized playing from the orchestra as appropriate to each episode. He follows the trend over the past decade or more of taking the outer movements just a bit more slowly (than say Reiner or Solti) to further highlight some of the more introspective moments, while still finding plenty of power when needed. Fine playing by the oboist and others. I also like the Dvorak 8th here. My favorites are Giulini/Chicago on DGG and Claus Peter Flor's early RCA disc with the RPO. I like their tempos, which are just slightly broader, but NS also does very well with this and the phrasing seems very right. Maybe there's something wrong with my ears, but I thought DGG's recording here sounded dull and unappealing, so for comparison I got out a Chandos recording of Jirí Belohlávek in the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra with the Czech Philharmonic dating from about 15 years ago, or maybe more. It sounded much detailed, open, and airy.
(More to come as I go through this set.)