Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestre Métropolitain completed their Brahms Symphony cycle at a live concert in April, now streamed online until the end of this month. In this concert, they paired the Brahms Fourth with Dvořák’s Serenade for Wind Instruments, Cello & Double Bass. Less often programmed than his Serenade for Strings, it is similarly packed full of Czech-influenced melodic material and rhythms, despite taking its inspiration from Mozart’s Gran Partita, which Dvořák heard performed in Vienna in 1878.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin
© Francois Goupil

The Dvořák provided a pleasing contrast to the Brahms, not only in terms of its chamber forces, allowing the Orchestre Métropolitain wind section to take centre stage, but also in terms of the Serenade’s predominantly light and sunny mood. The stately march of the first movement had a wonderful lightness of step, and Nézet-Séguin and the players gave the central, more pastoral section a relaxed lilt. The lilt continued into the second movement’s sousedská, with its delicately falling motif and rippling, watery accompaniment. The cross rhythms of the central, furiant section had a lively bounce, with fluid dexterity and evident enjoyment. The slow movement was delivered with Mozartian warmth and serenity, and the ensemble between the oboe at the front of the stage and the horn at the back was impressively tight. Nézet-Séguin took the finale at a great lick, and the articulation from the wind players was impressive yet never laboured, maintaining a sense of playful fun throughout. With the horns throbbing in the background, the swirling melody took off, and time and time again, Nézet-Séguin dropped the dynamic only to build it back up once again, and following the brief return of the opening movement’s march, the rippling hunting horns added to a rousing conclusion.

And so to Brahms. Fascinatingly, Nézet-Séguin took that lightness of touch evident in the Dvořák through into this performance, emphasising the detail and allowing a delicate touch to bring out subtlety often missed in weightier performances of this Symphony. The opening was indeed delicate, almost tentative and Nézet-Séguin allowed the melody to build organically. The breath-like break in the cellos’ souring second subject unnecessarily interrupted its flow, but this detail aside, the movement’s overall trajectory was handled with confidence, leading to an emphatic conclusion. He took the second movement attacca (and did the same with the finale), which makes sense here, given the emphatic gesture of its opening, before easing into the total contrast of the warm woodwind melody. Nézet-Séguin played around a little with the tempo, pushing forward slightly in places, particularly in the louder sections, adding to a freer, more expressive overall reading. The Scherzo-like third movement had a driving pace, and Nézet-Séguin avoided overplaying the prefiguring of the finale’s Passacaglia theme – although linking the two movements attacca made good sense. For the finale, he paid attention to the energico marking, and there was energy in dotted rhythms and expectancy in violin triplets, leading to a beautifully measured yet expressive flute solo in its half-speed variation. It was all here, with drama from the tremolo strings and gloriously warm chorales from the brass and bassoons. Yet Nézet-Séguin still maintained an element of lightness in the driving hemiolas, even as the movement soared to its mighty conclusion. This was a Brahms 4 with passion and drama, yet never settling for sheer weight of delivery over expression and attention to detail. 

Throughout, the camera work was intelligent yet unobtrusive, appropriately focusing on and giving credit to some great performances from principal players. Receiving a suitably enthusiastic response from their socially distanced Montréal audience, this performance showcased a conductor and orchestra at the top of their game. 

This performance was reviewed from the Orchestre Metropolitain video stream.