Yannick Nezet-Seguin (Photo by Will Figg)

Yannick Nezet-Seguin (Photo by Will Figg)

by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, opened its “Five Fridays” series of fundraising chamber music recitals Oct. 2 with a program featuring cellist Gabriel Cabezas and pianist Charles Abramovic. The duo was presented under the auspices of Astral Artists and testified to the wisdom of founder/director Vera Wilson having paired an emerging artist (Cabezas is only 23 years old) with the veteran Abramovic, perhaps Greater Philadelphia’s finest chamber music pianist.

Equally wise was their choice of music — two works deeply admired but not so often programmed: Poulenc’s “Cello Sonata” and Chopin’s “Cello Sonata in G minor.” Both are scores written late in each composer’s life, both display an unfaltering mastery of sonata form, and both offer an occasional touch of melancholy tinged not so much with regret as with the serenity of acceptance.

Poulenc injected his own peculiar vein of Gallic humor into the music of the sonata’s first movement. It’s jaunty yet not superficial. The piano writing is both rhythmically pointed and delicately voiced so that the cello can sing out effortlessly and eloquently. Both Abramovic and Cabezas met the challenges of Poulenc’s writing splendidly and stylishly.

Abramovic projected the chords that open the second movement with just the right balance between fullness and transparency so that Cabezas’ cello could sing in subtle pastel tints. Both players caught the frothy frolic of the third movement and then wrapped everything up with the delightful bon-bon of the final movement.

Chopin displayed a remarkable compositional maturity in the “Cello Sonata in G minor.” His command over true, developmental sonata allegro form was never more memorably presented than in this late work. The piano writing seems to combine that found in his “Fourth Ballade in F minor,” the “Fantasie in F minor” and the “Third Piano Sonata in B minor” while the cello writing is as idiomatic as though he had been an expert cellist himself.

Cabezas played superbly, proclaiming the music heroically when required yet intimately focusing the tone and lyrically shaping the phrases when that was needed. Abramovic not so much accompanied Cabezas but, in truth, collaborated with him, surrounding the cello’s voice with a pianistic kaleidoscope of color for the bigger moments and a palpitating murmur of melancholy for the quieter passages.

The next scheduled “Five Fridays” recital is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m. and features the Prometheus Orchestra with soprano Rebecca Hoke. All proceeds benefit Face to Face Germantown and the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Visit www.fivefridays.org.


Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in its opening series of subscription concerts Oct. 1-4 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. I caught the Saturday evening concert along with an audience that filled the hall and came away ever more impressed with our young maestro’s ability to program successfully and to elicit exemplary playing from the Philadelphians.

The theme of this season’s concerts is a celebration of the famous “Philadelphia Sound,” created by Leopold Stokowski and perfected for the new stereophonic long-playing albums by Eugene Ormandy. That distinctive character was abandoned by Riccardo Muti, retrieved by Wolfgang Sawallisch, demolished by Christoph Eschenbach and palely recalled by Charles Dutoit. Amazing, then, that Nezet-Seguin (born in 1975, only five years before Ormandy retired) should so efficaciously resurrect that sonic personality in only his fourth year as the Philadelphians’ music director. Many of us had feared that it would never be heard again.

But there it was Saturday evening, almost as though it had never left. Nezet-Seguin drew playing that was both shimmering and shattering in Ravel’s orchestration of his piano solo piece, “Une Barque sur l’ocean” from “Mirroirs.” It was as though a previously locked window opening out onto a unique universe of sound had been unfastened and opened wide for the audience’s pleasure.

Daniil Trifonov was the soloist in Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor.” Of the Russian master’s final four major works — the others are the “Third Symphony,” “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano & Orchestra” and “Symphonic Dances” (dedicated to Ormandy and the orchestra) — the Fourth Piano Concerto is the least frequently performed and, perhaps, the least highly regarded. That’s unfair. Whereas the Second and Third Piano Concerti revel in their morbid melancholy, the Fourth Piano Concerto seems to me to say, “Snap out of it and move on.” It may not be as clever as the Paganini Rhapsody, but its quality of jarring contradictions and scintillating scoring make it every bit as compelling a masterpiece as any of the other three. That’s especially the case with a soloist as brilliant as Trifonov accompanied by a conductor as supportive as Nezet-Seguin.

But the Maestro’s true challenge came after intermission with a favorite of not only Stokowski and Ormandy but of Muti, as well. There was a time when the Philadelphia Orchestra owned Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade.” After hearing Nezet-Seguin’s take on this extravaganza of Russian Romanticism, I’d venture to posit that the Philadelphians own it once again. The strings glistened, the woodwinds sang like an immaculately tuned cathedral choir, the brass declaimed martially, and the percussion battery exhilarated. It would seem that the “Fabulous Philadelphians” are back.

Contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.com.