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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Orchestra Métropolitain Sounds Like A Winner Under Yannick Nézet-Séguin

By Arthur Kaptainis on October 6, 2018

Photo courtesy of Orchestre Métropolitain
Orchestra Métropolitain with Yannick Nézet-Séguin Photo courtesy of Orchestre Métropolitain

Orchestra Métropolitain with Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor) and Nicholas Angelich (soloist), at Koerner Hall,  Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

Best Orchestra in Canada is typically thought to be a three- or four-horse race. Having recently heard certain perennial contenders that shall go nameless — but their initials are MSO, NACO and TSO — I wonder why it was that the Orchestre Métropolitain, the honourable alternative from Montreal, gave me more to enjoy Friday night in Koerner Hall.

One reason is Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director since 2000. This conductor both intuits the essence of a score and finds ways of making it manifest. That meant conjuring a thrilling crescendo at the end of the first movement of Sibelius’s First Symphony punctuated by startling timpani cracks and ending with a decisive pizzicato cadence in the strings. Also tugging ardently (but not excessively) at the sighing theme of the Andante and having great fun with the bracing rhythm of the Scherzo. Then building tension in the finale (played attacca) to the breaking point before releasing it in a magnificently cathartic final iteration of the big tune.

Photo courtesy of Orchestre Métropolitain
Photo courtesy of Orchestre Métropolitain

Everywhere the music seemed to arise organically from the orchestra rather than by decree from the podium. While there were undoubtedly many specific ideas that YNS introduced, the quality most characteristic of his style is getting the best from the people doing the playing. We heard majestic brass, woodwinds full of character (starting with a lonely clarinet) and strings that spoke with cohesive warmth. Here was Sibelius in all his grandeur.

Counterpoint was admirably precise — a good thing, since the performance of Oct. 6 in Montreal is to be recorded by the ATMA label. The Toronto concert was the third of five in so many days — “just a run-out,” as Nézet-Séguin amusingly told the Koerner crowd, involving a charter flight from Montreal and a same-night return that would get the musicians home sometime after 2 a.m. Nor are the programs identical. A hardworking group, this OM.

Photo courtesy of Orchestre Métropolitain
Photo courtesy of Orchestre Métropolitain

Sibelius was not the only attraction. Before intermission, we heard Rachmaninoff’s neglected Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Paris-based American Nicholas Angelich making a splendid case for its alternating bravura and romance. The trills leading to the finale sounded luminous and passages that could have been played for muscular effect were things of beauty. This was a collaborative performance, waxing and waning in dynamic and rhythmic accord. No need to repeat myself about the orchestra.

The only downside to this well-attended evening was Nicolas Gilbert’s Avril, receiving its day-after second performance. Not so much atonal as anti-tonal, the piece began with a slithering downward sequence intended to frustrate harmonic expectations. It held interest for a couple of minutes. It lasted 14.

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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