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The New York Times 07/12/2014
With an Expressive Flip, a Conservative Lineup Flares to Life

At first glance, the program that the Philadelphia Orchestra presented at Carnegie Hall on Friday appeared perfectly conservative: a Brahms symphony, a Haydn concerto, the suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss. But on closer inspection, its presentation was highly unusual: topsy-turvy, even, by the rigid standards of concert etiquette. Instead of opening with the palate-tickling suite followed by the crowd-pleasing concerto with the meaty symphony served up last, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the orchestra’s charismatic music director, reversed the order.

The result was a concert that drew an emotional arc — from the gleaming heroism of Brahms’s Third Symphony to the sweet indulgence of the Strauss — which perfectly fit the character of the works.

Brahms’s Third is a rare case of this composer bursting out of the gate with a fully formed melody. Usually, it takes him a while to assemble a theme from a series of tiny motifs, but this symphony flares to life like a match. In Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s reading, that opening statement had an emphatically rhetorical — in fact, idiomatically German — quality to it. The ensuing development seethed with irascible energy, powered by the orchestra’s glorious sound.

The winds might have been more smoothly balanced at the beginning of the andante in order for the following solos to detach themselves more spontaneously. But the melodies were lovingly shaped, as was the gorgeous opening theme by the cellos in the third movement, which was later repeated in a flawless horn solo by Jennifer Montone. In the final movement, Mr. Nézet-Séguin steered a breathtaking course between triumph and menace.

The French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras joined the orchestra for a radiant performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C. Mr. Queyras is equally at home in the period-instrument world and on the modern cello, and elements of Baroque style came through in the springiness of his bowing, which sometimes produced earthy, percussive effects. His cello possesses an unusual, falsettolike sound, a little diffuse, but sweet and songful. There was a vocal quality to Mr. Queyras’s playing, too, both in the way he seemed to transcend the mechanics of his instrument, sustaining the sound across bow changes, and in the expressive connection to the musical material.

It was only in the flamboyant third movement that I longed for a little more bite to the cello’s sound. As an encore, Mr. Queyras offered a tender rendition of the Sarabande from Bach’s Fourth Suite for solo cello that was dappled with sunlight and shade.

The opening of Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier” Suite once again took on a vivid, human shape, this time sounding like the musical equivalent of a hearty belly laugh. Mr. Nézet-Séguin gave a voluptuous, impetuous reading of this intoxicating score full of lush dance tunes. In the waltzes, he led an exuberant, sometimes dangerously tipsy, rush on the first beat of each 1-2-3 rhythm, imbuing them with great swing and physicality.

The New York Times 07/12/2014