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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Concert review: A taut Rite of Spring from Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano

By John Terauds on November 21, 2012

Kent Nagano (Wilfried Hösl photo).

Some conductors find sensuality buried in Igor Stravinsky’s now nearly 100-year-old score to the ballet The Rite of Spring. Others, like Kent Nagano, see it as a spiky, motoric succession of patterns. Both can make for interesting listening.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

The capacity audience at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday night roared their approval of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and its music director’s taut, mechanical view of Stravinsky’s music.

There are so many repeated musical figures and jagged rhythms that it makes sense to emphasize that aspect of the score, even if there are ways to soften its contours and get the springtime hormones flowing with more sensual sounds.

From a technical point of view, it really was an impressive performance by the Montrealers, one that began earlier in the evening with a neatly creased reading of Joseph Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony, more than a century the Rite of Spring’s senior.

With 44 players on the stage, more or less half the forces needed for the Stravinsky, Haydn’s tidy, witty piece sounded muscular, nicely nuanced and, above all, crisp.

Placed in between these two works was An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, a 1984 creation by British composer Peter Maxwell Davies for the Boston Pops orchestra.

Given its origins, it’s no surprise that the wedding is depicted with folk tunes and dances, cleverly varied as the imaginary alcohol begins to flow through the orchestra. It was fun to listen to Davies’ colourful writing, which culminated in a bagpiper marching up on stage.

I can’t figure out how these three pieces fit together on a concert programme, aside from showing off Nagano’s preference to meticulously sculpt every phrase and texture as if from granite.

The result was impressive and worthy of respect and admiration, if not actual love.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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