the art desk .com
April 3, 2017
You half hope that Bruckner’s early symphonies might turn out to last 30 minutes or so and sound like Schubert or Mendelssohn, but No 2, completed in 1872, is a typically uncompromising breezeblock of a piece, lasting 62 minutes in this performance. Though Yannick Nézet-Seguin’s humane, zingy reading makes a good case for the work. We can hear where Bruckner was heading. All the familiar tics and tropes are present: string tremolandi, gawky sequential passages and thunderous brass, though there’s a lot more light and shade here, with the brighter, more transparent sound made by the Montréal players an asset rather than a hindrance. Bruckner’s quirky melodies are phrased with palpable affection: the first movement's lyrical second theme is wonderfully done.
And what a good wind section this orchestra has: chorales are immaculately blended, with outstanding bassoons and clarinets. Horn solos in a very songful Adagio are immaculate, and the Scherzo’s Trio section is delightful. What even Nézet-Seguin can't do is make the Finale feel like more than a serious of disparate episodes stuck together; the blazing major key peroration seemingly arriving out of nowhere. But that’s the composer's problem, not the conductor’s. We’re used thinking of Bruckner interpreters as elder statesmen, and it’s reassuring to find a younger conductor who knows how to make this repertoire sing: this team’s recordings of Bruckner’s late symphonies are equally outstanding. Excellent recorded sound in this live performance, the audience impeccably behaved.
Graham Rickson - theartsdesk.com
March 14, 2017
It’s rare, perhaps unique, for a world-famous conductor to remain loyal to the community orchestra where he got his start, and the fact that Nézet-Séguin continues as music director of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain fills me with admiration. He also clearly loves Bruckner, and so this new CD in a slowly unfolding Bruckner cycle—it began with Symphony No. 7 in 2007—deserves praise. It wins approval on musical grounds as well, so long as you know where you stand. The execution by the orchestra, which was founded in 1981 with an initial roster of local conservatory graduates, isn’t impressive by the standards of great-name orchestras. In particular the thinness of the string body is immediately apparent.
The saving grace of the performance has to be the conducting. Here I was doubtful. Conductors are generally good at knowing which composers fit their strengths as well as their tastes, which is why Leonard Bernstein barely flirted with Bruckner and James Levine has avoided him altogether. However, Nézet-Séguin’s attraction to these symphonies hasn’t been matched by a special sense of power, majesty, or insight. I gave the most recent release in the cycle, Symphony No. 3 in 2015, a lukewarm reception (38:4), and Jim Svejda agreed alongside me, saying, “On the evidence of this sixth installment of his ongoing cycle of the composer’s symphonies, Bruckner isn’t quite his guy—at least not yet.”
To give Nézet-Séguin his due, I think what comes off as lightweight interpretation is actually a statement about how he feels, namely that the towering Bruckner of Furtwängler can give way to a countervailing opinion. Fluid, flowing, lyrical—why can’t Bruckner be like that? If a listener is going to be convinced, this new Second Symphony is probably the best place to start, because its Schubertian roots are strong and justify the kind of tender regard Nézet-Séguin shows. Especially nice is the inwardly shaped Andante, which doesn’t attempt to make early Bruckner jump up to the grandeur of mature Bruckner. The first two movements stand on their own as expressions of where the composer’s imagination had arrived, not as stepping stones to something more profound. The Second’s most focused energy comes in the scherzo and finale, where conductors are tempted to unleash the horsepower. Nézet-Séguin remains true to his interpretative stance with lighter textures, accents, and attacks. Here, too, he’s successful, and the engineers give us recorded sound that’s transparent enough to expose the delicacy of the flute line in the scherzo, for example, adding to the refinement of the reading. I wish the finale’s opening moment contained more mystery and anticipation of the upcoming explosive brass entries, but there are no explosions in this reading anyway.
If you can accept a Bruckner Second verging on the pastoral, this is a lovely account, and there’s no implication that one is settling for merely a good try. Nézet-Séguin has matured over the past decade—he was a fairly green 32 when the first installment in this cycle was released—and his musical growth tells in the strongest suit of this reading, which is its beautiful phrasing throughout. There will be listeners who find the whole thing underplayed and others who find it charming. I’d say that charm wins out.
Note: Buyers of the physical CD don’t get the download filler of the Bach-Stokowski chorale arranged for orchestra, which receives a moving performance. The timing in the headnote is for the symphony only.
Huntley Dent - Fanfare
March 3, 2017
Avec cette Deuxième symphonie, Yannick Nézet-Séguin poursuit une intégrale des symphonies de Bruckner qui confirme ses affinités avec l’œuvre du compositeur autrichien. Il reste fidèle à son Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, plus à son aise ici que dans les dernières symphonies.
Avec son Orchestre Métropolitain du Québec, Yannick Nézet-Séguin a entrepris l’édification patiente d’une intégrale des symphonies d’Anton Bruckner assez unanimement saluée. Son septième volet nous offre la Deuxième symphonie, partition à la genèse complexe et aux nombreuses rédactions successives ; on sait en effet que Bruckner, perpétuel insatisfait, réécrivait sans cesse ses œuvres, laissant d’innombrables variantes qui ont donné lieu à de nombreuses éditions différentes. Nézet-Séguin, qui se réclame volontiers de Carlo Maria Giulini, inoubliable interprète de l’œuvre, choisit la version éditée par Robert Haas, sans les fâcheuses coupures qui entachaient justement la gravure de Giulini (Testament). En particulier, il restitue au cor le magnifique mais périlleux solo qui conclut l’adagio (jugé injouable lors de sa création, il fut confié à la clarinette, mais perdait ainsi de sa magie originelle). À la différence de beaucoup de chefs contemporains, comme Simone Young notamment, le chef québécois n’opte cependant pas pour la toute première rédaction, qui plaçait le scherzo en deuxième position, devant l’adagio.
Prise dans son ensemble, l’interprétation de Nézet-Séguin s’impose par son lyrisme généreux, s’appuyant sur des basses puissantes, et une clarté des lignes polyphoniques absolue. Quant à l’Orchestre Métropolitain, qu’on a pu juger un peu juste en ampleur et en effectif pour les trois dernières symphonies (par ailleurs remarquablement réussies par le chef canadien), il est ici nettement plus convaincant, ne serait-ce que parce que l’orchestration est de dimension plus réduite (pratiquement semblable à celle de la Neuvième de Schubert par exemple). Chaque étape de ce cycle confirme la solidité de Nézet-Séguin comme interprète de Bruckner, un compositeur qui continuera sans nul doute à accompagner le développement de sa personnalité artistique.
Jean-Claude Hulot – Resmusica
Blog: Classical Notes
January 19, 2017
Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is not far from the end of a complete cycle of Bruckner Symphonies with his latest live recording of the Symphony No. 2, with the Montreal-based Orchestre Métropolitain. As ever with Bruckner, there are the revision issues, but the version here is the relatively standard edition made in 1938 by Robert Haas, combining Bruckner’s 1877 version with features from previous versions. The second is not the most exciting of Bruckner’s symphonies, but it has a youthful energy, and avoids some of the overblown excesses to which Bruckner can be prone. The opening movement begins as if out of nowhere, and Nézet-Séguin launches his players in with immediate energetic impetus, which sets the right tone for the rather stop-start opening movement, contrasting the moments of lighter repose with a sense of forward urgency. With Bruckner, a sense of the overall architecture is always important, and here, there is a good sense of onward progress. The slow movement has plenty of scope for the woodwind and horns to demonstrate their skills with frequent solo passages, all performed with great control here. Nézet-Séguin manages the ebb and flow of the music, which often threatens a mammoth climax, but pulls back to stillness and calm. The bombastic scherzo is suitably driven, and the dramatic finale, with its twists and turns, builds to a triumphant conclusion, with an emphatic contribution from the brass on this powerful live recording.
Nick Boston - Blog: Classical Notes
January 16, 2017
Accade sovente di incontrare, se non dal vivo almeno nell’attuale discografia, il nome di Yannick Nézet-Séguin, segno che il giovanotto sta ancorandosi a sicuri porti fermi o, più cinicamente, che gode di sufficienti patronati artistici. Quale che sia l’opzione giusta, è solo dalle sue prove che è dato però valutare i fatti; e i fatti, per quel che mi riguarda, dicono che qualche bella virtù costui è in grado di metter in campo perfino a prescindere dal curriculum, che comunque aiuta a farsi un’idea toccando già, fra la direzione della Philadelphia e il futuro incarico al Met, approdi di levatura indubbia. Il disco qui in esame contiene interessanti indizi di personalità, e intanto la presenza di una compagine, la canadese Orchestre Métropolitain, di non più che una sessantina di elementi, con la quale Nézet-Séguin si concede il lusso di eseguire niente di meno che una sinfonia di Bruckner ovvero di colui che dette origine in forma stabile alla proliferazione degli organici strumentali del romanticismo. Di più, il nostro direttore si cimenta in uno dei test sinfonici meno appariscenti dell’Austriaco, la Seconda in do minore (che fu giudicata ai suoi tempi “ineseguibile” dai Wiener) e che crebbe, è proprio il caso di dirlo, in diverse stratificazioni successive recandosi addosso uno dei tratti d’identità più marcati della musica bruckneriana ossia il faticato lavorio di modifiche sul materiale d’origine. E che quel lavorio fosse il segno di insicurezze non sono solo io ad affermarlo. Oggi conosciamo questa Seconda soprattutto nella versione mista, 1872- 77, approntata da Robert Haas nel 1938 e qui scelta; e possiamo ammettere che per la prima volta l’opera suona fedele alle proprie stimmate anche in una esecuzione per “piccola” orchestra e non nelle abituali affidate alle robuste falangi che si sanno. Merito, ancor prima che della scelta direttoriale, della sostanza musicale: non a quante altre sinfonie di Bruckner essa possa dirsi inferiore ove si escludano le ultime tre del catalogo. La non trascurabile sua novità è peraltro nel carattere intimistico della intelaiatura musicale; tal che, a fronte di due movimenti estremi, primo e quarto, che fanno uso (potrei dire abuso) del consueto procedimento a terrazze e di una quasi intollerabile larghezza delle pause all’interno dei tempi, v’hanno dimora due tempi centrali, un Adagio immerso in insolita, sospirosa leggerezza e uno Scherzo davvero splendidi. Nézet-Séguin spinge a fascinose interiezioni tematiche un complesso che mostra punte di eccellenza specie nel settore dei legni traducendo in apprezzabile compattezza le non rare espansioni liriche della sinfonia.
Aldo Nicastro - Classic Voice
January 6, 2017
Etoile montante parmi les grands chefs du moment, Yannick Nézet-Séguin poursuit son intégrale consacrée à Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) dont il a déjà gravé de généralement fort convaincantes versions des Troisième, Quatrième, Sixième, Septième, Huitième et Neuvième Symphonies, et qu’il ne cesse de diriger en concert comme en témoigne une Quatrième donnée avec l’Orchestre de Philadelphie à New York voilà tout juste un an.
Commençons donc avec la Deuxième (1877), qui a en fait déjà été critiquée dans nos colonnes puisqu’étant le reflet d’un concert donné à Montréal en septembre 2015 (voir ici pour le compte rendu en anglais et ici pour le compte rendu en français). Et avouons d’emblée ne pas être d’accord avec nos confrères, peut-être trop difficiles le temps d’un concert, puisque cette version discographique, certes sans se hisser au niveau de Carlo Maria Giulini (notre version de référence, chez Testament, sachant qu’il s’agit là de la première édition critique établie par L. Nowak et non de la seconde de R. Haas) ou d’Eugen Jochum (de préférence avec Dresde chez EMI, dans la même édition que celle utilisée par Giulini), s’avère extrêmement belle et non pas seulement «lisse» comme on a pu la décrire. Certes là aussi, on n’ira pas chercher chez le jeune chef québécois le climat nébuleux que l’on peut souhaiter dans le premier mouvement (Moderato), mais comment ne pas être séduit par cette clarté qui, alliée à un tempo allant (19’08 contre 19’54 chez Giulini), dévoile des couleurs inattendues jusque-là? Dommage que les dernières mesures soient prises de façon quelque peu pesante... Le deuxième mouvement (Andante - Feierlich, etwas bewegt) est sans doute le plus réussi: servi par un orchestre d’une qualité rare (quelles cordes! et ce hautbois, presque viennois dans ses sonorités!), il déroule une partition avec un naturel et une sérénité totales que vient à peine ébrécher un troisième mouvement qui aurait pu être plus violent (comme savent l’être les scherzi chez Bruckner) mais qui sait tout de même cultiver son déroulement implacable. Nézet-Séguin conclut cette symphonie de la plus belle manière grâce à un Finale - Mehr schnell qui, tout en veillant à n’omettre aucun détail de la partition (les accents du début, la délicatesse des bois puis des cordes à partir de 5’20), en impose par sa grandeur; là encore, la «course à l’abîme» que l’on ressent chez Giulini fait défaut ici mais la structure de la symphonie n’en est pas moins parfaitement conduite. Une très belle version donc qui prouve une fois encore les affinités que ce chef entretient avec Bruckner. En complément, l’orchestration d’un choral de Bach réalisée par Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977), qui avait prit les rênes de l’Orchestre de Philadelphie tout juste cent ans avant Yannick Nézet-Séguin: hommage d’un digne successeur à l’un de ses lointains prédécesseurs.
Sébastien Gauthier - Concerto.net
December 16, 2016
“Nézet-Séguin’s conducting is direct and straightforward, Bruckner’s markings diligently observed, particularly with regard to dynamics.”
Gramophone - Full review, click HERE
December 5, 2016
Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s career options seem to know no bounds these days. Currently music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and soon to be music director of the Metropolitan Opera, it says something important about the character of this man that he remains loyal to the orchestra that first recognized his unique abilities and gave him the opportunity to develop his technique and his repertoire, i.e., L’Orchestre Métropolitain (OM).
L’Orchestre Métropolitain is generally thought to be Montreal’s “second” orchestra, after the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM), but when Nézet-Séguin is on the podium, this ensemble has every right to be considered on a par with the OSM, an estimation confirmed by the fact that the OM and Nézet-Séguin just made a recording with lyric tenor Rolando Villazón and bass Ildar Abrazakov for Deutsche Grammophon (DG), one of Europe’s most prestigious record labels, and the recent announcement that the OM will be making its first European tour next year.
Meanwhile, Nézet-Séguin and the OM are continuing to make recordings for the Quebec label ATMA Classiques, another affirmation of Nézet-Séguin’s loyalty to both his musicians and the community that nurtured him. To date, Nézet-Séguin and his orchestra have produced 13 CDs for ATMA, including a Bruckner cycle still in progress. This release of Symphony No. 2 will leave just two more. Bruckner’s Symphony No. 1 is scheduled for performance and recording in the Spring of next year, with Symphony No. 5 slated for the Fall.
Symphony No. 2 is one of the least often played Bruckner symphonies, overshadowed by the much grander symphonies 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9. And that fact presents any conductor who tackles the piece with a dilemma: should the foreshadowings of the later symphonies be emphasized or should the piece be played in a style more limited in scale and more like Schumann and Mendelssohn than Wagner? In fact, there are several recordings available using chamber orchestras, clearly emphasizing the small-scale approach: Thomas Dausgaard with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (BIS-SACD-1829) and Mario Venzago conducting the Northern Sinfonia (CPO 777 735-2). If a Wagnerian scale is more to your taste, I would recommend either Eugen Jochum with the Bavarian Radio Symphony or Daniel Barenboim with Staatskapelle Berlin. Both conductors go for a big sound in the manner of the later Bruckner symphonies and use large orchestras. Jochum brings the trumpet parts, with some spectacular triple-tonguing, to the fore like no one else.
Nézet-Séguin, it seems to me, has opted for a reading that falls somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Although his approach is by no means small-scale, he gives us moderate rather than grandiose climaxes, and his tempos are brisk as compared to Barenboim’s, which are very slow (even when the marking is “Ziemlich schnell” or “Rather fast”) and Venzago’s, which are all over the place, and generally faster than most.
What makes this new Bruckner version so welcome is the quality of the playing. First chair players in the OM — especially principal horn Louis-Philippe Marsolais, principal flute Marie-Andrée Benny, and principal oboe Lise Beauchamp — repeatedly contribute solos that are not only beautiful but shaped with both affection and understanding. Incidentally, ATMA admirably lists the names of all members of the OM featured in this recording, but in fact offered one too many credits; there is no tuba part in this symphony.
Nézet-Séguin conducts with a clear sense of what he wants to hear and makes it happen. In no other recording have I heard the dynamics so carefully realized. He and his players must have worked especially hard to get the frequent soft trombone and horn chords not only quiet enough but together — really together.
When discussing Bruckner symphonies, it is always necessary to discuss which “version” the conductor is using and whether it is the “right” one or the “wrong” one. Bruckner made numerous versions of nearly all his symphonies – there is only one version of the Seventh, although there are still some issues — and scholars continue to try to pin down which ones are to be preferred. In the case of Symphony No. 2, although there are essentially two versions, one from 1872 and the other from 1877, that is not the end of the story. There are two widely used published versions, the first from 1938 by Robert Haas and the second from 1965 by Leopold Nowak. Fast forward to the present and the work of William Carragan, contributing editor to the Bruckner Collected Edition and one of the foremost Bruckner scholars alive. According to Carragan, the Hass edition is primarily based on the 1877 version with parts of the 1872 version mixed in. The Nowak edition is based on Haas. For the record, there is also a fairly obscure 1892 print edition which is essentially the same as the 1877 versions, with corrections, and it is rarely used by conductors.
The 1872 version (the very first version composed by Bruckner, which reverses the order of the inner movements) was not performed until 1991. This original version has been recorded by Kurt Eichhorn and the Bruckner Orchestra Linz (Camerata CD 30CM-195-6). Both the 1872 and 1877 versions were published together in an edition by Carragan (Bruckner Collected Edition) in 2005.
While Nézet-Séguin opts for the 1938 score edited by Haas (based on Buckner’s 1877 version), he does at least a little tinkering, e.g., omitting the repeats in the Scherzo for the second part of the main section and the second section of the Trio.
For some good information on the various Bruckner versions and their complexities, visit the website of the Bruckner Society, so ably tended by John F. Berky.
Paul E. Robinson – Musical Toronto
November 28, 2016
I heard Yannick Nézet-Séguin early in his career when he conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It was immediately clear that we had an outstanding conductor here. Since then he has become the music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Soon he will also be the music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In many of his recordings, however, he has stayed faithful to the orchestra where he started: Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal. The record under review, Symphony No.2, is part of a Bruckner cycle which is now almost complete: only No.s1 and 5 (and perhaps No.0) are as yet unrecorded.
I am a great admirer of Bruckner’s sacred music but I find his symphonies harder to come to terms with. Too often, it seems to me, a movement will begin beautifully but then fail to develop. I may be quite wrong here and I am willing to believe that a conversion is still possible. If that happens, this CD may well have taken its part. Nézet-Séguin shapes the music beautifully and gets wonderful playing from the Orchestre Métropolitain, particularly from the principal wind players.
Hans de Groot – The WholeNote
La Scena Musicale
November 11, 2016
Nicknamed “The Symphony of Pauses” for its stop-and-go form, Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 is difficult to interpret for this reason as well as its relative transparency and stratification of voices, its muted rhythmic vitality, and its laborious pacing. It is perhaps for the better that it fell to the latter half of the Orchestre Métropolitain’s recording schedule of the complete cycle of symphonies, giving time for the players to gain experience with Bruckner’s symphonic language. That said, maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin makes the best out of the work, finding clarity at the cellular level: the individual moments that add up to make the entire symphony. Nézet-Séguin’s interpretation is forward-thinking, anticipating the next motif with longer dynamic lines without getting bogged down in the details—a difficult task indeed.
Throughout the Second Symphony, features we come to associate with later Bruckner symphonies—first themes that emerge from the ether of string sound, melodic and often tender second themes, sequential chromatic modulation, bombastic brass in the finale—are present in embryonic form. Bruckner harnesses these features in a more dramatically satisfying way later in his output, beginning with the Third and reaching a highpoint in the Fourth and Fifth.
The fact that Bruckner was wont to revise and revise (and revise) his symphonies has given the composer a bit of not-undeserved notoriety, leading to questions of authenticity and veracity as well as a type of forensics that fractures a neat canon of works. But aside from keeping a gaggle of beleaguered musicologists employed, the multiple versions destabilize our notions of authority and the musical-work-as-text, allowing for a multiplicity of readings to coexist in a less hierarchical manner. It also gives the conductor a more apparent role in the (re)creation of the work. Opting for the 1877 Hass edition, Nézet-Séguin prioritizes the Andante over the Scherzo, thus emphasizing the warmth of the trio in the latter movement and making a more direct link between the opening chords of the first movement and the second.
With this recording, Nézet-Séguin goes where even the most celebrated Bruckner interpreter, Sergiu Celibidache, didn’t dare tread. And while at times the voicing of chords could have been more finely-tuned with a better blend, Nézet-Séguin’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and exuberance shines through, making up for any dramatic shortfalls in Bruckner’s writing.
Kiersten van Vliet – La Scena Musicale
November 3, 2016
Longtemps, j’ai vécu avec une interprétation favorite de la Deuxième Symphonie d’Anton Bruckner, celle qu’Horst Stein grava pour Decca avec les Wiener Philharmoniker. Eux seuls osaient absolument marquer les pauses de silence qui littéralement décousent le discours du Ziemlich schnell initial : le moyen de faire passer la symphonie en sérénade.
Dès la fébrilité des violons dans les premières mesures du disque de Yannick Nézet-Séguin et de ses amis de l’Orchestre Métropolitain, j’entendais soudain ce sous-bois de sons qui peut aller à l’orage comme à la contemplation en une seconde : ce que « musique » signifie est là, dans la versatilité de tons, de timbres, d’images, de rythmes qui est la signature du discours qu’ose ici Bruckner et qui pourrait se résumer dans le savant enroulement des bois qui va suspendre le temps , hautbois, flûte, clarinette se tuilant en une arabesque qui amène l’éternité au détour d’une note tenue. C’est un miracle que Bruckner ne retrouvera plus, qu’il faut pouvoir saisir lisant la partition, et rendre saisissable. Ici c’est fait, mieux !, senti, puis suggéré.
Le sublime Adagio peut bien paraître, le plus beau nocturne qu’ait jamais rêvé de composer Gustav Mahler est là, entier, profond, si simple, si beau, si désarmant, Bruckner le lui aura volé « ex ante ».
Le miracle vraiment est que, courant Salzbourg puis le MET, un tout jeune quarantenaire puisse tout comprendre de cette poésie inouïe, de nous la donner dans une innocence qui est, à proprement écrire, pure charité chrétienne. Bruckner n’aurait pas espéré mieux que ce grand vaisseau de sons qui emporte l’Adagio, et qui soudain rêve sur des pizzicatos pour entrer ensuite dans une tendre méditation. J’ose l’écrire : le secret de Bruckner se livre ici : lisez le dans ce disque.
Artalinna – Jean-Charles Hoffelé
Journal de Montréal
October 15, 2016
Un nouveau Yannick Nézet-Séguin est toujours un bonheur pour le mélomane. Consciencieux, proche de ses musiciens ainsi que de son orchestre, il insuffle cette vitalité nécessaire pour que le travail accompli soit constamment à la hauteur. Tirant des architectures complexes, sans que cela soit «lourd», son Bruckner no 2, certainement l’une des symphonies les moins jouées, fait ressortir les aspects méditatifs et les longs crescendos. Si cette symphonie est une «curiosité», elle trouvera certainement preneur chez les Brucknériens convaincus ainsi que ceux et celles, qui suivent le travail passionné du chef d’orchestre.
Christophe Rodriguez – Journal de Montréal
October 14, 2016
« Yannick Nézet-Séguin poursuit au disque, pour le label québécois Atma, un cycle Bruckner avec la 2e Symphonie. Le chef croit vraiment à cette oeuvre délaissée, ici très travaillée et détaillée. Le chef québécois s’approprie de mieux en mieux l’univers du compositeur : les tempos sont plus justes, les forte plus nobles que jadis.»
Christophe Huss - Le Devoir
Full review: HERE
Samedi et rien d'autre
October 8, 2016
Listen to Edgar Fruitier on the radio show "Samedi et rien d'autre" about Bruckner 2 with the Orchestre Métropolitain under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Click HERE
Voix des arts
October 2, 2016
Since the completion of its earliest version in 1872 and its première by the Wiener Philharmoniker under the composer’s direction a year later, Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor (WAB 102) has been a source of confusion, frustration, and elation for conductors, musicians, musicologists, and music lovers. Not published until two decades after the completion of the first version, the score underwent extensive revisions, wrought first by the composer himself in the years prior to his death in 1896 and then by scholars who struggled to make sense of the material produced by Bruckner’s reconsiderations. Recorded in well-balanced, spacious sound that conveys a perceptible sense of the fine acoustic ambiance of Montréal’s Maison symphonique, this ATMA Classique performance of Symphony No. 2 by Orchestre Métropolitain and internationally-renowned conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin continues a commitment to Bruckner’s Symphonies that has thus far produced a series of warmly-received recordings that, alongside his traversal of Robert Schumann’s symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon, have confirmed Nézet-Séguin’s standing as a significant interpreter of Nineteenth-Century symphonic repertory. Among these lauded recordings, the present account of Symphony No. 2 is the most obviously personal of Nézet-Séguin’s recorded Bruckner outings to date. As he is a boundlessly vivacious young man with a smile as bright as the Montréal skyline by night, melancholy would seem as foreign to the conductor’s temperament as rampant arrogance was to the composer’s, but Nézet-Séguin ignores none of the score’s shadows. Still, this is not music of intergalactic tragedy, and this performance deals as successfully with subtle humor as with starkness. There are no definitive answers to the questions posed by Symphony No. 2, but those proposed by Nézet-Séguin and the Montréal musicians on this disc are exceptionally persuasive.
The principal quandaries into which a performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 wades are questions of the order of the score’s four movements and the matter of a critical horn solo in the final pages of the Adagio movement that was declared unplayable by an early would-be exponent of the part and was subsequently reworked for clarinet and violas. Like Bach’s Passions and many of Händel’s operas and oratorios, a performance of Symphony No. 2 with absolute fidelity to Bruckner’s final thoughts on the score is at best an elusive chimera. For this performance, Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain colleagues use a composite version of the score that amalgamates Robert Haas’s 1938 edition, primarily based upon the composer’s 1877 revision, with elements from Bruckner’s original structure and later revisions. The work that comes to life in this version possesses greater cohesion than has often been the case with the symphony, and its dimensions here benefit from increased symmetry. The tightening of the score that Bruckner achieved in 1877 is combined with the freshness of his initial invention, producing a free-flowing construction in which the music never hinders the conductor’s efforts at maintaining consistent momentum during thematic development. Bruckner was an avowed devotee of Wagner, but his own motivic writing is more redolent of the Biergarten than of Bayreuth: the links among the movements of Symphony No. 2, clear-sightedly examined but not exaggerated in this performance, are more episodic than literal. This reading wholly avoids falling into the trap of ridiculously treating the symphony’s four movements as a miniature Der Ring des Nibelungen.
As an interpreter of Bruckner’s symphonies, Nézet-Séguin is neither a cupcakes-and-kittens optimist who lathers the music in sentimentality that is never fully rinsed away nor a fatalistic firebrand who scorches and singes the music indiscriminately. This is especially true in this performance of Symphony No. 2, which he paces with a pragmatism not unlike his approach to Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony. Mahler, who appreciated and espoused Bruckner’s music, assessed the older composer as a musical deity with a pronounced vein of imbecilic tendencies, and if this seems more indelicate than Mahler likely intended it to be it is nonetheless an apt analysis of the man who emerges from Bruckner’s scores. There are undeniable absurdities in Bruckner’s music, but they are fewer in Symphony No. 2 than in other works. The Orchestre Métropolitain musicians respond to Nézet-Séguin’s leadership of the symphony’s opening ‘Ziemlich schnell’ movement with palpable understanding, the string playing, wonderfully reliable throughout the performance, granting the composer’s dense writing a welcome buoyancy. The intelligently-judged balances among the orchestra’s sections that Nézet-Séguin and the musicians achieve provide a setting in which the beauty of Bruckner’s music can be appreciated without longing for this or that phrase to be more or less prominent in the soundscape.
The tempi that Nézet-Séguin sets in the Adagio (‘Feierlich, etwas bewegt’) and Scherzo (marked ‘Schnell’—‘Mäßig schnell’ in some editions—by the composer) movements allow the symphony’s expressive energy to evolve at a cumulative pace that draws the listener’s attention into details of orchestration and phrasing without jeopardizing contemplation of the work’s broader design. In the Adagio, there are no concerns about the capabilities of any of Orchestre Métropolitain’s personnel. This is music of dark moods, but conductor and orchestra refuse to wallow in them, preferring to get on with performing the notes before them rather than indulging in the dangerous business of questioning the artistic impetus of the composer’s instructions instead of merely following them. To say that Nézet-Séguin takes the time to fully ponder the expressive implications of Bruckner’s harmonic progressions is not to suggest that the performance is at all ponderous. There is little true jocularity to mine in playing the Scherzo, but its—no one tell Bruckner!—almost Brahmsian ambivalence is tellingly exposed. A heightened awareness of the novelty of Bruckner’s part writing is facilitated by the robust but flexible orchestral textures that Nézet-Séguin encourages: in the Scherzo’s boldest moments, not only Mahler but Schönberg, Webern, Berg, Schulhoff, and Krenek also appear on the horizon, foreshadowed in music that unmistakably owes a debt of gratitude to Beethoven’s late string quartets.
The symphony’s final movement, designated ‘Mehr schnell’ by the composer, is a sort of cabaletta to the scene and two-part aria that precede it. Here, Nézet-Séguin’s leadership occasionally sounds cautious rather than confident, but a measure of caution is indicative of a commendable drive to conserve emotional electricity and preserve musicality even in the most frenetic passages. If the movement’s raw impact is marginally reduced, the enhanced refinement—a quality not often cited among the principal virtues of Bruckner’s music—that Nézet-Séguin’s approach reveals is ample compensation. In the symphony’s final moments, Orchestre Métropolitain’s greatest assets are deployed. Like their conductor’s endeavors, the musicians’ playing weds youthful exuberance with the assurance of experience. Collectively, they are as attentive to the smiles as to the scowls in Bruckner’s music, and their performance of Symphony No. 2 is convincingly grand on a scale appropriate to the score.
Offered as a bonus to listeners who purchase this release in digital format is an unabashedly Romantic performance of Leopold Stokowski’s elegiac arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh’ (BWV 478). The flamboyant Stokowski’s orchestration of Bach’s hauntingly beautiful music is surprisingly sensitive, and Nézet-Séguin conducts the piece with complementary intensity and restraint that honor both Bach and Stokowski. With a modern-instrument band like Orchestre Métropolitain and an ensemble of dedicated singers, Nézet-Séguin would likely be an ideal champion of Felix Mendelssohn’s edition of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion.
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson are unlikely visitors to a review of a recording of a Bruckner symphony, but the advice of their ‘Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys’ might have served the curmudgeonly Bruckner equally well as an enjoinder to thwart youngsters’ intentions to become composers or conductors. His was a career complicated by critical hostility, some of which he unintentionally instigated, amorous disappointments, and bouts with depression, but the latter-day image of Bruckner desolately perched in his Linz organ loft, a man apart from his surroundings, is likely no more accurate a depiction of his life than accounts of lifelong puerility are of Mozart’s. Symphony No. 2 is neither Bruckner’s best nor his most radical work, but the debate that it has spawned among scholars validates its significance in its composer’s and the wider symphonic canons. Often battered by the musical establishment of which he was a reluctant part, the introverted Bruckner might well have advised an eager young man with Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s gifts to pursue greatness as a doctor, lawyer, or such, but this is a performance of his Symphony No. 2 that would surely have inspired him to press a coin into the conductor’s hand as a humble, heartfelt ‘Vielen Dank.’
Joseph Newsome - Voix des arts