Prom 20 – SCO/Nézet-Séguin

Yannick Nézet-Séguin seems to be everywhere just now. Recently appointed music director at Rotterdam (succeeding Valery Gergiev) and principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic, the young French-Canadian made his first appearance at the Proms last Friday, only days before his New York debut tomorrow night. Such restlessness is also in evidence on the podium, where he darts and bounds constantly, drawing on an astonishing repertoire of gesticulations, facial expressions and deft footwork.

While Nézet-Séguin's balletic aspirations can be rather trying, they proved welcome for the first work of the evening. Stravinsky's Pulcinella, though rarely performed as such, is a ballet, and some kind of visual stimulus is desirable to draw one's mind away from the anodyne pastoral of the libretto. This is particularly the case in the Albert Hall, which does its utmost to drown Stravinsky's finely crafted mosaic of comic and serious styles in its soupy acoustic. Yet it was clear that Nézet-Séguin and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were delivering a first-rate performance, daringly shaped and marked by attention to detail.

The spirit of daring similarly marked the contribution of the American pianist Nicholas Angelich – also making his Proms debut – in Schumann's concerto. In a technically flawless performance, Angelich brought an almost overbearing intensity to his interpretation, stretching out the phrasing and squeezing expression from Schumann's well-worked lines. Nézet-Séguin showed his mettle here, easing his orchestra into fruitful communion with a pianist who, given less sensitive handling, could easily have sounded awkward.

Concluding with Mendelssohn's "Reformation" symphony, orchestra and conductor left the near-capacity audience with memories of an evening rich both in character and sparkle.

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