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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

REVIEW | Wan, Nagano, OSM: Seldom-heard Ginastera is a tour de force

Par Arthur Kaptainis le 24 février, 2019

Andrew Wan. (Photo: courtoisie)

What to do on a Saturday night? For many Montrealers, the answer appears to be: hear the OSM under Kent Nagano. The Maison symphonique was packed, remarkably enough given the competition next door from Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and a program endowed with neither a romantic warhorse nor an international soloist.

Not that anyone who was unaware of the international calibre of OSM concertmaster Andrew Wan could possibly have remained in the dark after his performance of the Violin Concerto of Alberto Ginastera (1916-83). This score of 1963 is seldom heard for a few reasons, including a long and difficult solo at the opening, a huge orchestra with a squad of percussionists who speak mostly sotto voce, a tough 12-tone harmonic language and a rhapsodic style that incorporates a wide array of textures and effects.

All of these potential demerits were virtues on this occasion. Wan played the inaugural cadenza with commanding assurance, full sonority and fuller personality. One had the impression of an operatic tenor decrying his hard lot, but with more in the way of depth and subtlety.

When Nagano cued the orchestra, the depths became deeper, as the soloist played arpeggios and other sustained patterns against eerie dissonances in the woodwinds or soaring lines in the strings. Percussionists who are normally asked to create disruption in 20th-century music spoke in ghostly whispers. What a master this Argentinian composer was.

Nagano was on top of the complex score and the orchestra played with high concentration for the team captain. Whether lyrical, expressionistic or pyrotechnic – Ginastera made witty references to Paganini – Wan seemed to find the centre of the music.

Wan was reading the music from an iPad. No problem. Results are what count.

The evening was rather gratuitously titled “L’OSM aux couleurs de l’Amérique du Sud.” The only other South American element was Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas brasileiras No. 5 for soprano and cellos. Soprano Leslie Ann Bradley sounded edgy in the famous Ária, although there was plenty of fun in the ensuing Dança. Good work from the OSM section.

 

What to do on a Saturday night? For many Montrealers, the answer appears to be: hear the OSM under Kent Nagano. (Photo: Arthur Kaptainis)
What to do on a Saturday night? For many Montrealers, the answer appears to be: hear the OSM under Kent Nagano. (Photo: Arthur Kaptainis)

The concert began with Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3. The celebrated Air sounded austere, with vibrato studiously withheld. Spirits were high in the Gavottes (nice trumpets) but elsewhere the performance seemed rushed and matter-of-fact. Since the string complement was large (notwithstanding passages in which some strings were silent) a forthright “modern” playing style probably would have yielded more in the way of music.

Also heard was Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, delicately done. French music remains in the OSM bloodstream. Principal oboe Ted Baskin got a bow and a well-earned cheer.

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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 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.
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