It’s always a treat to hear guest orchestras in a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert season. They usually bring their “A” game and present major works to an appreciative audience. Such was the case last night at Roy Thomson Hall when the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal performed. OSM was last here in December 2016 when it brought the spectacular pianist Till Fellner and dazzled the audience with music by Beethoven, Dutilleux and Ravel. Last night, conductor Kent Nagano brought with him the much-acclaimed German violinist Christian Tetzlaff for a program of major works by Berg and Bruckner. This was a concert that I had circled on my calendar when it was first announced. It did not disappoint.
The OSM has been hailed for years as Canada’s pre-eminent orchestra. Last night only enhanced its reputation. With basses and cellos on the opposite side of the stage to the customary TSO position, and with the first and second violin sections on either side of the conductor, there was an immediate sound difference that was only magnified by the presence of over sixty string players including eight double basses. Nagano had them playing as a unison. The tuning of the strings was impeccable.
The program opened with Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto(to the memory of an angel). The work couldn’t have been timelier. Berg wrote it in response to the tragic death of eighteen-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Gustav Mahler’s widow. Manon was a talented teenager on the cusp of a performing career when she was struck down by polio. Berg was devastated at the death of his young acquaintance. He wrote to Alma following Manon’s death, “You and Franz Werfel (her current husband) will be able to hear, in the form of a score which I shall dedicate ‘to the memory of an angel,’ that which I feel and today cannot express.” I couldn’t help but draw the comparison of Berg’s sense of loss to that experienced in the tragedy last week of the young hockey players in Saskatchewan.
The opening arpeggios of the twelve-tone work by the clarinet, harp and solo violin immediately created a haunting yet gentle tone. The violinist Christian Tetzlaff was superb in his portrayal of the many moods of the work as it progressed reflecting the spirit of Manon, the pain and suffering that accompanied her disease, and finally the devastation of her loss. The final section with a paraphrase of the Bach chorale “Es ist genug! Herr wenn es Dir gefällt” was breathtaking and the last notes of the violin solo seemed to send the angel off to heaven.
Tetzlaff was completely worthy of all his international acclaim in last night's performance. If you missed him last night, he will be returning to Toronto for a performance of Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the TSO on April 10, 12 and 13, 2019.
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON April 14th 2018
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Photo Credit: Antoine Saito0
Maestro Kent Nagano
Photo credit: Robert Côté
Photo credit: Giorgia Bertazzi
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal: another triumphant visit to Toronto!
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Following intermission, the orchestra regrouped for a monumental performance of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major. Complete with four Wagner tubas, the hour-long work has as David Ewan explained, “the grandeur, sublimity and symbolic epical designs of the Wagnerian music drama.” Indeed, the second movement (Adagio) is an elegy to Wagner who was near death as Bruckner wrote the work. Nagano and the orchestra of close to one-hundred musicians were in complete control throughout. The lyrical warmth of the opening theme played in the cellos was an inviting introduction to the music ahead. I was carried away with the beauty in the second movement leading to the climactic moment with all sixteen brass players, timpani, cymbal and triangle cutting through the strings.
It is no wonder that this work was what turned Bruckner’s career around and put him on the international stage. It was only in Vienna that the critics failed to be impressed. The performances in Leipzig and Munich were soon followed by performances throughout Europe, an unquestionable triumph as it was last night in the hands of Nagano and the OSM.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra will resume its season concerts tonight and tomorrow with resident conductor Earl Lee, violinist Blake Pouliot and a program of Beethoven favourites including Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.