Alas, poor Yannick …

Alas, poor Yannick …


norman lebrecht

February 15, 2020

A rare misstep by the conductor-who-can-do-no-wrong in the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

…. Where Yannick Nézet-Séguin goes wrong in this often impressive Philadelphia concert is in his dramatisation of the work as a celebration of German and Catholic traditions. This might have worked if the composer was Bruckner, a naïve believer. But Mahler was a complex character who struggled with faith and identity. …

Read on here.

And here.



  • Esther Cavett says:

    And yet it’s your album of the week

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    From your review….

    “The other half-dozen concerts I attended failed, due either to inadequate rehearsal, miscalculated balance, inferior soloists or — most common — insufficient immersion on the conductor’s part in Mahler’s mind world.”

    Or could it just be that the work is a monumental piece of kitsch?

    • Olassus says:

      Oh, don’t bother, Cynical. If Norman spent a tenth of the time with naive Bruckner as he does with Maahhlaahh, he’d be less complex himself. And a better listener. I mean, who really thinks any piece by Bruckner would benefit from “dramatization … as a celebration of German and Catholic traditions”?

  • Larry D says:

    I haven’t heard the album, but I heard him do it live in Philadelphia. One of the happiest nights of my concert-going life. Who cares what anyone else thinks, even if they have written a book on Mahler?

    • Barry says:

      I have to admit the piece has never been a favorite of mine and I rarely listen to it. So I can’t really compare the performance to others. But I also saw it live and consider it one of the best concert experience I’ve had during Yannick’s tenure. Hearing it live with all of those forces was different than listening to a CD, to say the least. I was extremely impressed.
      It’s too bad there wasn’t a recording made of the Verdi Requiem he led to open his Philadelphia tenure. I still consider than to be the best thing I’ve seen from Yannick. Not that there haven’t been plenty of other very good performances over the years, but that one was very special.

  • fflambeau says:

    Maybe you are wrong about Mahler:

    From Wikipedia:
    “…his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler—who had converted to Catholicism to secure the post….”

    Note too that Mahler’s own notes to the symphony speak of “Christian Love” in the Adagio.

    And on German philosophy:

    “…Mahler developed interests in German philosophy, and was introduced by his friend Siegfried Lipiner to the works of Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gustav Fechner and Hermann Lotze. These thinkers continued to influence Mahler and his music long after his student days were over. Mahler’s biographer Jonathan Carr says that the composer’s head was “not only full of the sound of Bohemian bands, trumpet calls and marches, Bruckner chorales and Schubert sonatas. It was also throbbing with the problems of philosophy and metaphysics he had thrashed out, above all, with Lipiner.”

    Mahler was complex; perhaps your image of him is too simple.

  • Andrew says:

    Try this on for size… with Valery Polyansky, one of the choral legends of the last 50 years. What a sound, both chorus and orchestra.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Different strokes for different folks. I think it’s among the best Mahler 8 recordings in my vast collection of M8’s.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Well, the “orchestral interlude” you mention in your review is by far the best part of this work.
    Even Tennstedt, a brilliant conductor of Mahler, cannot save the Eighth from sounding like what it is: a gross miscalculation by the composer – an absurd conceit requiring EIGHT(!) vocal soloists.
    Mahler realized it, too: for the Ninth and (unfinished) Tenth Symphonies, he asked for NO vocal soloists, and for Das Lied von der Erde, only two – and they alternate singing each of the movements.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Yes Greg. And yet, people are still stupid enough to go to Mahler 8 performances, enjoy the music and enjoy themselves in the process. Those poor fools – better to stay home and be wiser.

  • Rita says:

    “Largest symphony…” – what about poor Havergal Brian’s “Gothic”?

  • Christopher says:

    It is SOOO easy to criticize. I was at this performance and it was absolutely hair raising.
    Music, like most things, is subjective. The mark of a great musician is understanding that concept and keeping an open mind to what another individual sees. It doesn’t make either party “wrong”
    No one can argue that Yannick is one of the top conductors in the world right now and the same can be said about the resurgence of the great Philadelphia Orchestra. I’d have more respect for Norman if he made the trip to at least hear it live. Everyone worth their salt knows that a recording has many flaws that simply cannot compete with a live performance.
    Until Norman releases his own recording with one of the worlds great orchestras it would be wise to demonstrate a little humility.

  • Mark says:

    “the conductor-who-can-do-no-wrong“ ?

    Really, that’s the incense smoke emanating from the Met publicity office.
    Most of his recordings have been terrible-to-mediocre – his Bruckner, in particular, is simply awful, and his desiccated Mendelssohn and Schumann symphonies set one‘s teeth on edge.

    Little Yannick manages to rob every opera or symphonic work he conducts of any grandeur or sense of occasion.

    • Marlin says:

      You seem to have left something unsaid in your critique. hmm

    • Stereo says:

      Same as Marin Alsop. Both are vastly overrated.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I’d suggest that in Bruckner, it’s greatly the second tier, unidiomatic orchestra from Montreal that’s the problem. His Bruckner 8 from Rotterdam is vastly better. Frankly, it’s as good as any B8 in my collection, and that includes the usual suspects (Karajan, Furtwaenglier (1944), Haitink, Bohm, Van Zweden, Van Beinum, Welser-Most, etc., etc.)