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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

REVIEW | Mahler a welcome gift from Yannick and the OM

Par Arthur Kaptainis le 22 décembre, 2018

Leading with a score but no baton, YNS seemed to be breathing the music rather than beating time. (Photo: François Goupil)
Leading with a score but no baton, YNS seemed to be breathing the music rather than beating time. (Photo: François Goupil)

Add this to the list of honours earned lately by the Orchestre Métropolitain: The Ebenezer Scrooge Award for the least Christmassy concert ever given by a symphony orchestra four days before Christmas.

Well, great music is great music, as Yannick Nézet-Séguin pointed out in a droll address Friday night before a big crowd in the Maison Symphonique. And great music is what Mahler’s soul-searching and death-defying Ninth Symphony sounded like under his characteristically upbeat direction.

Not that all elements of this 85-minute colossus are of equal value. Some have wondered about the raucous sonorities and heavy tread of the second movement. Mahler requires the playing to be “very rough” and YNS (along with the OM violins) certainly obliged.

The ensuing Rondo-Burleske is supposed to be “very defiant” and again we could not fault the conductor or orchestra for disobedience. Yet I was grateful for the interludes of quiet relief from the contrapuntal frenzy.

The occasional feeling that I was getting more of a blast than I deserved might have been a consequence of sitting on the far right of the hall, close to the stage. It was easier to appreciate the solemn outer movements, where Mahler looks down at the depths and up to the heights. Strings, dense and songful, were nicely punctuated by the harps. Woodwinds spoke with independent character and collective harmony. Brass were warm on the bottom, bright on top. The principal horn was first among equals.

Leading with a score but no baton, YNS seemed to be breathing the music rather than beating time. His basic tempo in the finale was relatively fast, as it was when he performed the Ninth with the OM in 2005. Yet one could not have asked for a more exquisitely attenuated conclusion – pianissimo and adagissimo – as Mahler invites us to leave behind the troubles of this world.

Éric Le Sage was making his belated Montreal debut in Schumann’s Piano Concerto. (Photo: François Goupil)
Éric Le Sage was making his belated Montreal debut in Schumann’s Piano Concerto. (Photo: François Goupil)

Silent through all the longueurs, the audience made amends with a big ovation. They were grateful also for the playing of Éric Le Sage – making his belated Montreal professional debut as a stand-in for the ailing Hélène Grimaud – in Schumann’s Piano Concerto. This Frenchman is capable of smudging a note or two, but his free and intimate style was suited to the score. It was gratifying to hear all those semiquavers in the finale treated as conversation rather than chatter. We were in a living room listening to chamber music on a paradoxically symphonic scale.

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Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.
Arthur Kaptainis
Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.
Arthur Kaptainis
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