The Philadelphia Orchestra’s “Orchestra Unleashed” program on Wednesday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was nothing less than sensational. The evening also introduced the much-awarded Canadian pianist Serhiy Salov to the large crowd.
There’s something special that happens when Yannick Nezet-Seguin steps in front of this orchestra. Maybe it’s his collaborative style of conducting that brings out the best from the players, or just that he’s so prepared and so on top of his scores that every cue, every entrance is noted. It’s also wonderful to play under someone who is so in touch with the music.
Certainly that was the case from the opening of Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan” (1888), an exhilarating, superbly orchestrated tone poem. It was a thrilling, exciting ride full of pizzazz with Nezet-Seguin catching every nuance, dynamic shifts, and every mood change. The transitions from the fiery passages to the tranquil moments were graceful and seamless. The orchestra played exquisitely.
Salov, in a red Nehru jacket and in his orchestra debut, performed Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which Rachmaninoff premiered in 1934 with the orchestra. Many pianists just knock off this piece but Salov found things that made for a poetic, playful, and romantic performance. His style had charm, finesse, lightness, humor, and a fluid clean technique that made the fast scalar passages sound like a waterfall of sound. He took his time to get inside the phrases with a wide range of dynamic levels and types of articulations.
Nezet-Seguin was the perfect accompanist matching his manner and phrase. The crowd jumped to its feet, cheering and whistling and got an encore: Alexander Scriabin’s bittersweet “Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 2, No. 1.”
Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” featured many sections of the orchestra. Interestingly, the composer wrote the piece in two months while staying in a sanitarium in Saranac Lake in 1943. It’s a colorful, brilliant masterwork with five very different movements. The orchestra dazzled.
The first movement was vigorous yet mysterious. The second was playful and puckish with two of each of the winds playing in close harmony. The third had long, dramatic lines of yearning often punctuated by the lone piccolo. The fourth had folk tunes, lush romantics and raucous moments before the vivacious finale had everyone rushing to the end with the brass playing the theme in declamatory brilliance.
The audience was ecstatic. Fortunately there’re more concerts through Saturday with violinist Joshua Bell in the final two days.